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A Brief History of Wearables
Wearable Tech World Feature Article
May 30, 2014
A Brief History of Wearables
By Matt Paulson
TMCnet Contributing Writer

Several tech publications, including our own through TMCnet, have christened the year 2014 as the “Year of the Wearable,” in anticipation of an explosion of computing devices meant to be worn on a person at nearly all times. Indeed, wearable computing seems almost like an idea straight out of science fiction. Still, devices like Google (News - Alert) Glass, Fitbit, Samsung's Galaxy Gear and others are increasingly appearing in our everyday lives.

However, it's important to recognize that the history of wearables extends far further back than you might imagine, with the first wearable devices emerging more than half a century ago in 1961. At this time, MIT (News - Alert) mathematics professor Edward Thorp unveiled his wearable computing device that allowed him to successfully cheat at roulette by programming probability equations into the device. The device gave the wearer a 44% edge during roulette, yet a similar computer developed by Kieth Taft 11 years later did not fare so well. This device was located in his shoe, but Taft gave up on the project after losing more than $4,000 in a single weekend.

Of course, wearables as we know them are far more complex than 1975's wristwatch calculators. Popular media representations have shown us what to expect from a wearable device as far back as 1984 with the movie The Terminator. Scenes from the titular android's point of view showed computer displays overlaid over real world imagery – nearly three decades before Google Glass would do the same thing.

One early pioneer of the wearable industry was Steve Mann, who developed a computer backpack in 1981 that controlled a camera for photography. In 1994, he went on to develop that same concept into an upgraded concept that featured a wireless webcam, which he uploaded images to the Internet with for around two years.

Of course, these tools are primitive compared to the technology surrounding us today. Bluetooth headsets, which offered one of the first reliable and convenient machine-to-machine (M2M) communication standards, were first shipped in the year 2000. The first inklings that wearables could be associated with fitness were connected when Nike and Apple (News - Alert) teamed up to allow users to track their movements with their iPods – and Nike even developed clothing specifically designed to accommodate carrying an iPod around in special pockets. A year later, Fitbit was founded.

Today, smartwatches like The Pebble offer unprecedented computing power in a stylish case, coming a long way from the wrist-mounted calculators of the 20th century. This sudden explosion in both power and aesthetics means that wearable technology is reaching fruition, leaving the profits for developers and possibilities for consumers ripe for the picking.

Want to learn more about the latest in wearable technology? Be sure to attend Wearable Tech Expo, July 23 & 24 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.  Stay in touch with everything happening at the event -- follow us on Twitter.

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