Written by Dominic Basulto
Published in the Los Angeles Times
February 9, 2016
When futurists first began to predict the merging of man and machine, they surely couldn’t have predicted this: wearable furniture.
The Japanese-made Archelis is literally a wearable chair that surgeons can “wear” during long operating procedures. And there are more “wearable chairs” in the offing — Audi, for example, has partnered with Swiss start-up Noonee on a “chairless chair” that workers can wear while they assemble high-end vehicles.
The thought of a wearable chair might sound crazy, but it’s also a sign of where the super-hot field of wearable technology is taking us. If you thought the wearable tech space was only about smartwatches and activity trackers, here are just a few examples of new forms of wearable tech that are completely changing our notions of human-machine interaction.
1. Robotic exoskeletons
The first generation of exoskeletons included those that were largely for purposes of rehabilitation or regeneration — a way for humans to regain the performance of a damaged limb, for example. But the next generation of exoskeletons promises to give humans super-abilities — such as the ability to lift a Mini Cooper off the ground with ease — or the ability to experience new sensations. The bionic exoskeleton built by Applied Minds, for example, enables users to feel what it’s like to age 40 years in a single day.
We could also see the arrival of military exoskeletons that give troops superhuman abilities as early as August 2018. The U.S. military’s Talos exoskeleton could be one way for troops to gain superhuman abilities during combat. The Talos “Iron Man suit” provides full bulletproof body armor, a helmet-based heads-up-display of the surroundings and enhanced capacity to carry more powerful weaponry while overcoming any obstacles in the environment.
2. Portable mind monitors
If you think about the current generation of human-computer interaction, it usually requires tapping on a keyboard or swiping a finger on a mobile device to get things to work. But what if there were a way to communicate with computers using only your thoughts? That’s the goal of the next generation of portable mind monitors that are worn strapped around the head, much like a virtual reality headset.
At UC San Diego’s engineering school, there’s a wearable brain monitor that you strap to your head that enables users to “type” their commands using only their brains. Of course, projects like these are still in the experimental stage, but some researchers say that these devices could become as popular as smartphones within the next decade. On the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, for example, it’s possible to find similar types of projects from researchers who are already blending cutting-edge knowledge in neuroscience and computer science to create brain-computer interfaces.