Mit Wearable Technology Lab

Ʌ: Cyberpunk

Comment kept for posterity:

OK, so I usually make jokey squad descriptions, but I’m a huge wearable-computing dork and I’m about to lay down some radical real-world facts.

The guy on the far left is Dr. Steve Mann. He has built and worn wearable computers continuously since 1985, making him the longest continuous cyborg. He did a lot of work on image-processing algorithms, and wrote some of the foundational mathematics behind HDR photography. His wearable in this picture is his own custom design, which used a CRT tube from a camcorder. It’s not so much of a computer as a photography tool - most of the gear in his fanny pack is lights, color meters, digital camera, etc.

The guy to his right looks like he’s wearing a Sensics VR display, though it’s not exactly like anything I’ve seen before. It’s probably not connected to anything - it’s obviously not intended for everyday wear.

The guy in the green shirt is wearing a Private Eye display with probably a custom computer pack. The Private Eye didn’t use a CRT or even an LCD - it had a row of tiny red LED’s. A motorized mirror flicked back and forth, using persistence of vision to blur the LED’s into a large, red-on-black text display. The Private Eye had the crispest text of the time, and was the best choice for cyborgs who wanted a mobile terminal.

The guy with the antenna on his head looks like he’s wearing a Xybernaut system, probably with the electronics stuffed into his pockets. This was a very expensive system, way too pricey for any student to afford, so his computer probably belonged to the lab. Cell service at this time was janky at best, so this guy’s antenna probably connects his device to a mainframe over ham, UHF, or VHF radio. I wouldn’t be surprised if wireless connectivity was the focus of his research.

The guy second from the right looks like he’s wearing some HMD I have at home but forgot its name. It’s a monocular display with an LCD in the “brim” - the bit in front of the eye is just a lens and mirror on a bracket that reflects the LCD into your eye. This thing was sold to dentists so patients could play video games while they got drilled - it looks like he’s hooked it up to a computer system that was big and clunky even for its time.

The guy on the right is Dr. Thad Starner, who inspired Sergey Brin to initiate Google Glass and served as the project’s technical lead. His system uses the Private Eye, but you can see him holding a Twiddler, a one-handed keyboard that is still sold today. He used his system, running Linux with a modified shell, 18 hours a day to take and search notes. Starner used his device to take notes on everything - other students signed up for a mailing list to get his class notes emailed to them before the class ended. He only recently briefly stopped using wearable computers, as he found they interfered with his family life, but continues to wear Google Glass and custom wearables. 🌐