Get IT on

As gadget fiends will appreciate, the annual Comdex computer trade show in Las Vegas is BIG, with thousands of products competing for the attention of hundreds of thousands of visitors. Standing on a platform above the crowd was a woman in a full-body Lycra suit, striking practised gameshow-hostess poses. While I was figuring out what all this had to do with Linux servers and FireWire peripherals, I noticed her belt - a series of discreet black boxes hung about her waist. Our model was indeed wearing a computer, complete with hard storage, motherboard and battery-pack.

This was a few years ago now and I can't remember any more details, but this wearable computer caper just seemed like cute techno-fiction. Now I'm not so sure.

The current swing in focus from PCs to so-called "connected devices" has an obvious corollary - in the future we will be wearing our technology.

We've taken to mobile phones and PDAs as accessories to be worn rather than carried. Ericsson's Bluetooth headset for its mobile phones is another example of wearable high-tech. But this is just the beginning. Without the need for unsightly cables, expect to see headsets, microphones and cameras integrated into spectacles, hats, even jewellery. There's nothing really to stop Mark Waugh's sleek Oakleys sending an intimate vision of the pyjama game up to the Channel 9 commentary box, courtesy of "Sunnies Cam" embedded in the bridge of his glasses.

But we're jumping ahead a summer or two - what we can we wear now?

For $US5000 you can dress with a Xybernaut Mobile Assistant IV, a Pentium running Windows (so much for high-tech) hanging off your belt, with a head-mounted display, hands-free voice recognition, inbuilt video camera, plus an optional touch-screen display strapped to your wrist. British Airways has equipped some of their check-in staff with these babies and sent them roaming the bleak halls of Heathrow to perform on-the-spot passenger check-ins.

For something a little less gauche, darling, check out Charmed Technology (www.charmed.com), where the emphasis is on fashion - they run the Brave New Unwired World Fashion Show at computer trade shows around the world. A spin-off from the brains at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Charmed is building spunky brushed-aluminium computers that could easily grace the too-thin bodies of Australia's Beautiful People.

To hide altogether the fact you're packing a PC, I suggest the "seamless technology" of the Wearable Motherboard Smart Shirt from Sensatex (www.sensatex.com). The marketing blurb says this is "a garment . . . created with intelligence that still feels like a typical undershirt". Used mainly in medicine for sensing and communicating body functions, it's time we got the Smart Shirt out of intensive care wards and into the dance clubs. You could transmit the body temperature, heart and respiration rates of everyone on the dance-floor to waiting vodka vendors and DJs, so they could adjust their respective supplies accordingly.

Weaving technology into the very fabrics we wear is a logical, if obviously complicated, next step. Electrotextiles (www.electrotextiles.com) has developed Elektex, a "smart fabric" that allows position and pressure sensing - and you can wash it. The company has developed a fabric keyboard that can be folded away and a floppy cloth mobile phone, and it's only a matter of time before we get TV remotes embedded in the armrest of the couch.

To really stretch your imagination, peer no further than the materials scientists at IBM who are working on flexible transistors. These are hybrid organic-inorganic transistors that perform somewhat like the inorganic silicon we use now. These hybrid transistors can be dissolved and printed onto paper or plastic, just like ink. This is all about making electronics flexible, which will be key to technology that we can wear - buses on our backs and circuitry in the soles of our shoes . . .

Lest you think we'll be waiting a while before wearable computers become mainstream, just wait until someone mentions to the suits at Nike and Adidas that teenagers could have computer games and mobile phones embedded in their shoes and tracksuits. There'll be no turning back.

Feedback not so welcome

March's column about online porn ("Make a buck with the Cucumber Sexfest") triggered quite a response. Surprisingly, the e-mails I received were not so much for or against my observations, but rather to find out how one can sign up as a cyber-porn king. I haven't (and won't) reply to each e-mail individually, so just let me say here: guys, if building an online library of nudey pics is to be your contribution to humanity, that's fine, but I don't really want to know about it - especially about the guy who has "a regular supply of fresh photos".

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MARK STAFFORD

PC World
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