Wearable Technology as an Interface with Virtual Environments

Evaluating the Plug and Wear samples

Wearable Technology as an Interface with Virtual Environments

The 4th E-Textile Workspace took place on 24 February 2010. We were joined by two students from the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht. Aduen Darriba and Anouk Wipprecht are working on a graduation project together that integrates wearable technology and were keen to share their discoveries, inspirations and questions with the group.

Follow all Workspace results at the E-Textile Workspace collection.

Plug and Wear Textiles

In February a few participants made a combined order from Plug and Wear, including the Conductive Fabric Evaluation Kit. In the first part of the workspace we ran small, informal tests on these textiles. We examined their different properties which included different levels of resistance in different directions and varying conductivity depending on movement and stretch in some samples.

There is also quite some interest in the Textile Perfboard product from Plug and Wear, although we have yet to experiment with this.

Multi-touch Film

We're very excited about DISPLAX's new multi-touch film announced in the press earlier this month. We're hoping that V2_ can acquire a small sample of this so that we can use it in future development and experimentation. More links to articles on this new technology are listed at the bottom of this page.

Can wearable technology transpose the physical body into virtual environments?

The topic for this session was a natural continuation from brainstorming in the previous E-Textile Workspace. The question: Can wearable technology transpose the physical body into virtual environments; acted as a springboard for a broader discussion.

One of the immediate things that come to mind when thinking of wearable technology transposing the physical body into virtual environments is controlling an avatar via a suit. This kind of intuitive interface ideally should not require the user to think about the controls. It becomes an extension of her body. However, an input device like a Wii or a mouse is much more easily detached from the body when the user wishes to disengage from the interface. Seamless integration into a virtual environment by wearing a full body suit can make integration with the real world difficult as basic real-world functions (like going to the bathroom) become challenging!

We moved onto less cumbersome examples of wearable technology like prosthetics, hearing aids, etc.The question remains: to what extent people will accept more and more physically invasive technologies? At the moment, the ability to remove it and the idea of being in control is important. But this may change in the future as history shows us that fear of new technologies is a part of human nature.  People once mistrusted cell phones and even eyeglasses, but these are now integral to many people's lives.

Skepticism about wearable-networked technologies and the requirement to easily remove them is rooted in issues of privacy and ownership of personal space. Some applications discussed by participants were RFID tracking and avoiding security cameras.

So what is the reason for participating in virtual worlds? A large motivation is to escape from our real lives, either for entertainment or to be free from physical and/or social restrictions. Daydreaming transposes us into a virtual world as an easy escape from reality/everyday things, but technology enables us to do this in groups. Part of the attraction of wearable, intuitive interfaces is the idea of extending body language communication. Humans have a need to communicate beyond the restrictions of language and in virtual environments like web-based social networks; we try to approximate this with emoticons, symbols, typing in capitals, etc. But body language doesn't get filtered through the same processes as verbal expression, it goes directly to the body, so it follows that clothing might be engineered to express our feelings by capturing body language. Of course, participants also questioned how comfortable we feel sharing these sub-conscious feelings in a virtual social space.

The flip side to transposing the physical body into virtual environments is enhancing the physical body with augmented reality. In this way, we bring the virtual world to ourselves rather than the other way around.  Perhaps then we might also feel we have more control over the experience.

There are obvious practical uses for wearable or body-integrated interfaces. Task-oriented applications like those used to record movements in the work-place can be used to analyze ergonomics, but the same technology can used to increase efficiency with less regard for workers' well-being.  When science fiction becomes science fact, participants agreed that humans should be controlling the machines, not vice versa!

We also decided that it doesn't really matter if the applications are practical or not. Perhaps what is important is making people reflect on the experience itself.


Links and references shared by the participants

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