What’s Up with Wearables?

What’s Up with Wearables?

by Xiao-Yang Huang

Wearable electronics are in the news these days and on the schedule for the Technical Symposium at Display Week 2014.

It’s hard to miss the topic of wearable electronics lately. Entire Web sites, such as CrunchWear.com, are dedicated to the phenomenon.  At the time this issue was going to press, Gizmag.com was updating its Wearable Electronics department about every other day, with the latest entry being a piece on LG’s still-under-development G Watch, one of the next-generation “smart watches.”  IDTechEx had just released a new report, “Wearable Technology 2014–2024: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts.”  The report was accompanied by a press release from the market-research firm that poked fun at some of the latest wearable innovations (animal ears on a headband that move according to your brain waves; fitness monitors whose popularity seems to have peaked), while noting that the wearables market will still climb to $70 billion by 2024.

Wearable electronics aren’t new – hearing aids, pacemakers, iPods, and wristwatches come to mind.  But in recent years and months, the platform has clearly fired both public and industrial imaginations: new products keep arriving.  One reason for their popularity is that they represent the next step in ubiquitous computing.  Some wearables – those exercise monitors, for example – sync with your smartphone and also your desk computer.  When done right – and manufacturers still seem to be trying to get it right – a wearable device should either augment or replace another computing platform in a useful, non-trivial way.

Another reason for wearables’ popularity is that for manufacturers and retailers, they represent a new direction for innovation – and profit.  And also, wearables are fun and interesting.  The media will continue to cover them as a result.  It’s difficult to resist a story about shoes with silicon insoles that interface with a navigation system, tickling your feet to keep you heading in the right direction.

A Wearable by Any Other Name …

In simplest terms, wearables are clothing, accessories, or other devices you can strap to your body or tote in a pocket that incorporate computers or some kind of electronics.  They can be flexible, like a fabric-based display, or fixed, like a Google Glass headset.  The latter category is currently more prevalent, with flexible displays, wearable or otherwise, in earlier stages of development and mass production.

Wearables are of interest to the display community because nearly all of them incorporate displays.  Creating a display that will meet the demands of wearable technology requires, to different degrees, miniaturization, ruggedization, and integration.  These are intriguing challenges for researchers; the Technical Symposium at Display Week 2014 received many papers in the wearables category this year.  Wearable Displays have been designated as a special focus area for 2014, and three wearables sessions will be held at Display Week, as listed in the sidebar, “Wearable Display Presentations at Display Week 2014.”  The first two sessions deal primarily with fixed or rigid wearable technology, such as visors or glasses; the third focuses on flexible displays, such as OLEDs on textiles.

Information Display is pleased to present versions of two of these papers (edited for our readership) in this issue of the magazine.  The first, “Augmented Edge Enhancement on Google Glass for Vision-Impaired Users,” by Alex Hwang and Eli Peli of the Schepens Eye Research Institute at Harvard Medical School, is an example of the fixed category.  It describes a method for outlining the edges of objects viewed through a Google Glass display in order to make it easier for vision-impaired users to recognize faces and other objects at appropriate distances.  Not being able to recognize a face in time to say hello at what it considered a socially appropriate distance can be a real detriment to an individual’s personal happiness.  Not being able to recognize certain objects in time could be life threatening.  This is a category of wearable display that has real potential to improve the quality of life for vast numbers of people, particularly the elderly.

The second article in our wearables introduction is “New Shoes?  No Problem.  Creating Dynamic Fashion with Wearable Displays” by Wallen Mphepö from the University of Sunderland in the UK and Jiaqi Gao, Miao Li, Justin Wang, Mega Mengmeng, Tian Dan, Hanson Zhao, and YinLei Liu from iShuu Technologies, UAB, Vilnius in Lithuania.  While the topic is fun – a high-fashion shoe with an e-Paper display that can change colors and patterns based on commands from a smartphone – the paper’s authors are very serious in their efforts to create a wearable display that serves fashion – not just a novelty item.  It’s this kind of focus that will separate wearable displays with lasting impact from those that are merely fads.

The authors of both of these papers represent the best of the wearable research – real applications that will help users in their daily lives in ways both profound and pragmatic.  We hope you enjoy their work.  If you are reading this article at Display Week 2014, make sure to catch some of these wearable sessions, which take place Wednesday, June 4.  •


Wearable Display Presentations at Display Week 2014

Wearable Displays I:  Imaging Devices

A 0.23-in. High-Resolution OLED Microdisplay for Wearable Displays
    Reo Asaki, Sony Corp., Kanagawa, Japan

Color-Filter LCOS with Double-Mirror Structure
    Yuet-Wing Li, Himax Display, Inc., Tainan, Taiwan, ROC

Fully Integrated CMOS Microdisplays for Wearable Sports and HMD Applications
    Petrus Venter, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

Invited Paper:  Development of Eyewear Display Systems:  A Long Journey
    Mark Spitzer, Google, Mountain View, CA, USA

Late-News Paper: Front-Lit LCOS for Wearable Applications
    Yuet-Wing Li, Himax Display, Inc., Tainan, Taiwan, ROC

Wearable Displays II:  Optics Design

Optical Design of a Compact See-Through Head-Mounted Display with a Light-Guide Plate
    Jui-Wen Pan, National Chiao Tung University, Tainan, Taiwan, ROC

Binocular Holographic Waveguide Visor Display
    William Bleha, Holoeye Systems, Inc., San Diego, CA, USA

Quality of Augmented Information for Different Distances on See-Through Near-to-Eye Displays
    Toni Järvenpää, Nokia Research Center, Tampere, Finland

Augmented Edge Enhancement for Vision Impairment Using Google Glass
    Alex Hwang, Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

Wearable Displays III: Direct View

OLEDs on Textile Substrates with Planarization and Encapsulation Using Multilayers for Wearable Displays
    Kyung Cheol Choi, KAIST, Daejeon, South Korea

Genuinely Wearable Display with a Flexible Battery, a Flexible Display Panel, and a Flexible Printed Circuit
    Ryota Tajima, Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Co., Ltd., Kanagawa, Japan

Flexible Substrate with Low Reflection, Low Haze, Self-Cleaning, and High Hardness by Nano-Structured Hard Coating and Surface Treatment
    Jiun-Haw Lee, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC

Wearable Display for Dynamic Spatial and Temporal Fashion Trends
    Wallen Mphepö, University of Sunderland, Sunderland, UK

Late-News Paper:  Wearable-Display Expectations:  Enabling Mobile-Display Experiences of the Future
    Brian Gally, Qualcomm MEMS Technologies, Inc., San Jose, CA, USA