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MIThril, More Wearable Fun 31

whacked writes "For those that haven't checked the MIT wearables page in a while, there seems to be a bit of action. The MIThril project looks like a major advance on the original MIT wearable design, with features such as the body bus, `a branching single-cable power/data network.' An update on May 25 states, `We have finalized the plans for the first "release" MIThril'." They also link a design doc for Enchantment which has a ton of interesting bits about designing a Window Manager for a wearable. Don't expect to see an actual device any time soon, but for the far-out thinker, there's lots of interesting stuff to read and think about.
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MIThril, More Wearable Fun

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  • by Anonymous Coward'll protect you from a savage orc attack.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    what's the difference between that and a Palm or a cell phone in your front shirt pocket? Don't discard the technology because it isn't waterproof or expensive at this time - there's more interesting stuff to solve before these relatively mundane problems are addressed.
  • The pictures are of the "demo" clothes, which have all the hardware on the outside. There are other versions which actually cover all of the hardware for protection and so that you don't look like a Radio Shack fell on you. Coffee shouldn't be a problem, although a rain storm or a water balloon might be.
  • The distinguishing feature of wearables is that you can use them without taking them out of whatever you carry them in. Palms are designed to be always with you, but not always usable; you can't see where you're going and they take both hands.

    The location of the machine doesn't really matter; what you're actually wearing is the I/O devices, so that you can use them without looking down or occupying your hands all of the time.

  • If nothing else, it'll help keep you warm in the Winter!

  • To me, the challenge for these systems is how to be interactive in a non-modal way. Things like radios and audio/video recorders are passive but can be used continuously. A well-understood interface. On the other hand, pocket computers and Game Boy Advances are interactive but used like tools, in a modal way. Also understood.

    So how to make devices that combine non-modality with interactivity? Right now, it seems like these devices just divide modal interaction into smaller and smaller timeslices. That takes you from the five seconds to pull a pocket computer out of your pocket (or one second to access it once it's out of your pocket) to a fraction of a second. Definitely an improvement, but just an incremental one, and for this one is constrained to having to wear the thing. Judging by wearable beverage technology, this is a significant disadvantage. Personally, I don't even keep glasses on my face when I'm not using them, and they're pretty useful. But are there other approaches to the modality issue?

    Obviously, there's also the added portability for users who walk around all day or are similarly on-the-go. Are there other significant advantages? I'd appreciate if anyone familiar with wearables could offer some references or example applications.

  • Your leap of logic reminds me of an old joke.

    Step 1) Collect 12 boxes of women's underwear
    Step 2) ?????????
    Step 3) Take over the world.

    It's a long long way from wearable computers to the Borg.
  • This seems relevant to this discussion, so I am putting it out, taking a risk that I might be modded down, but who cares, right?

    Check out Thumbscript [], an alternative to Grafitti and possibbly twiddlers, as well...

    Oh, and BTW, if this (talking about Thumbscript) becomes a story in a few days, I am going to be REALLY pissed at whoever rejected my submission!

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • How much radiation would be given off from this aparatus? Is it safe to stap this much equipment around one's torso for moderate/long durations? Has the MIT group performed any tests on this?

    This is all very cool and I would use one even if there were some dangers involved.... just have to find a lead t-shirt!
  • by bonoboy ( 98001 ) on Sunday June 10, 2001 @08:03AM (#162678) Homepage Journal

    Interesting Stuff is having in related fields, as well. Last week's New Scientist had an article on flight suits utilising tactile cues capitalising on the 'cutaneous rabbit' effect. Basially, if you get tapped three times, it'll feel like many more, so a small number (32) of pressure pads all over your body will provide a nearly seamless feeling of contact anywhere on your body. They're using it for pilots right now, but as far as intuitive interfaces go, getting 'tapped on the shoulder' when your phone's ringing isn't a bad one. Plugging this into your car's computer and letting it give you cues whenever there's something getting too close sounds alot better than actually letting the automobile drive *itself* if you ask me. And damn, I just can't park.

    One of the great things is that it uses air-pressure in the interconnecting system to feed the pads. Alot safer and lighter than carrying around huge battery packs.

  • Is there a nice, step by step how to on the MIThril?
    Unfortunately there isn't yet. The reason is that MIThril doesn't use just off-the-shelf parts. Our video driver board, for instance, is completely custom: we've been hand-soldering them ourselves for the prototype systems.

    That being said, there's nothing really proprietary in the systems. We're in the process of publishing circuit schematics and the like, so anyone else can build on our research. It is intended more for other research groups, though, as opposed to individual enthusiasts, because of the needed involvement in fabrication.

    Personally, I really wish that someone was selling commercial systems of similar capabilities. We don't really want to be in the hardware arena, since it's not our specialty, but making these prototypes ourselves seemed to be the only way to get into the really interesting areas of software design and social research that we want to investigate.

  • Have you considered using eye-pointing when designing the interface?
    At the ACM1 conference a few months ago, I did talk to a couple of companies doing eye-trackers. Unfortunately, as far as I was able to determine, the hardware isn't really up to the task yet. To do eye-tracking well, you need a big camera (and preferably several) pointing back at the face, which isn't feasible for a head mount. Head-mounts jiggle around, too.

    One problem is that the heads-up displays we use have a field of view of only ten degrees or so, which is about the same as a PalmPilot held at normal viewing distance. So to be able to eye-track to on-screen controls well, you really need at least one degree of angular accuracy, which is hard in a portable system.

    That being said, though, it would be hugely useful to us as interface designers just to be able to tell when the user is attending to the display instead of looking at something in his environment. With that, you only need 10 degree accuracy or so, which is feasible with a simple CCD camera system. We'd love to find someone willing to collaborate on making such a basic head-mounted system.

  • by DaggerWare ( 112027 ) on Sunday June 10, 2001 @10:08AM (#162681) Homepage
    If anyone's interested, I'm the author of the Enchantment white paper that was linked here (hopefully my machine will survive the experience).

    Anyway, I'm happy to answer questions on that or on the MIThril project in general.

  • Is there a nice, step by step how to on the MIThril? I found the one on building Lizzy, but not on MIThirl.

  • I've seen some how to's by Steve Mann that he made with his wearables. They have nice, clear, first person perspective pics of every step of the way. It really brought home the benifits of being a borg, able to trade skills with others.

    If this kind of thing were available, then the need for people to put together custom boards would seem to be less of a hurdle.

    I hate to nit pick though. You guys and gals are moving along quite nicely. My frustrations mostly stem from not having the money to throw at building something anytime soon. I hope the how to's are out by the time I can put together my wearable fund.

  • You should look at a couple of the how to's that Steve Mann has put together on how to modify wearables. He was able to give step by step instructions with first person pictures of what to solder where. Being able to trade skills like this with other people in the collective is a nice advantage of being a borg.

    The darker aspects seem to come when one has no choice about the tasks that others get to add to your to-do list. Just retain veto power over your to-do list, I mean you do have a will of your own. As long as that is true, I would join. And will as soon as I can put together my wearable fund.

  • by Triode ( 127874 ) on Sunday June 10, 2001 @08:20AM (#162685) Homepage
    If the bandwidth of the bus is 12Mb/s, theoretically a good 1Mb/s can be achieved (overhead/etc) for actual data. This could lead to a nice stream of 128Kb/s or greater in audio format. Now all one needs is two good mics, one by each ear and a microdrive and interface and you have da bomb portable recording station. What goes down on track is exactly what you hear, no big bulky rigs etc. Just a thought.
  • I think it was Steve Mann (originally at MIT) who had a vest attached to some sort of Radar, so that when he was on his bike, he could 'feel' a car coming up behind him. Sounds a bit like a development of that tech.

    If a waterproof version was available it would be good for people in Prison...if you drop the soap, you could feel the person approaching you, before you really feel that same person coming from behind ;-)

  • iabervon wrote

    "The distinguishing feature of wearables is that you can use them without taking them out of whatever you carry them in. Palms are designed to be always with you, but not always usable; you can't see where you're going and they take both hands."

    OK, good point, but in the case of the charmed-in-a-bag, I still see this as "less wearable" than most other wearables because it's less integral to the wearer's body, more like a purse with a laptop. Yes, the IO is outside, and I agree that's the most important thing, but a bag that you have to drape over the back of your chair or whatever is a lot different (not worse, hey, I might prefer it) than one that's *attached* to you, even in the way that a vest like the MIThril is attached to you.


  • The MIThril project has taken one tack with the wearable possibilities (integrating it into clothing) that most wearable projects have not. They clip on (Xybernaut), sit on back (the CMU one whose name I forget), or even become barely semi-wearable by being carried in a bag (charmed). (Still nice machines and all, just that I think "wearable" is a stretch as a distinguishing name for something not that much different from carrying around a Sony picturebook.)

    The vest approach might seem strange and limiting compared to the more separately worn ones (hey, it might be warm for a vest, right?) but in reality, all the wearables available right now need batteries (lots of juice) and communications (bluetooth and similar aren't really widespread enough or useful enough), and it's all got to go *somewhere* ;)

    If it was a light enough mesh, a vest really might not be as limiting as I used to picture it, and by placing the stuff around a user's torso (usually adjudged pretty important to the user!) it probably gets more protection than it looks, just from natural self protection.

    as computing power gets cheaper, GPS and other technologies spread, that vest could become a lot lighter, too. Now if only there were /good/ input systems (not sure what they would consist of, in truth, but the current choices are all Lesser Evils with some interesting compromises to choose among), I would love one of these for everyday use. Palm device is the answer for now, I suppose;)


  • And is this "borg" you speak of a bad thing?

    precisely the point. (sorry to see you moderated as off topic)

    because some *will* see it as radical cool, and others recall in horror. The next big series of wars ( say, compared to the crusades, or the recent spat of european wars since napoleon) may be based on precisely this philosophical point.

    I am sure that for many, it would be perfect, until it is over populated by the weekminded imps on weekend vacation, or all of the psychos get online. Imagine Borg Spam for example. Advertising right into your mind, and not being able to filter it! Imagine America, Land of the Free, home of the Brave, and Birthplace of the Borg.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Sunday June 10, 2001 @08:13AM (#162690) Journal
    The typical knee-jerk reaction to all this stuff is to recall the Borg.

    What people never looked at in the various trek series was how the Borg became the Borg.

    My thought on this is that they would become the borg because in the beginning someone, somegroup, thought that all of that embedded/wearable technology is radically completely cool.

    I can imagine the first network where a human can access computer data directly via a wire to that skull. Or where direct interfaces happen from brain to brain. Someone is going to have the equivalent of a religious experience as far as the significance of this vs Nirvana and the group mind.

    People tend to become the things they resist. [Note for example, cops going criminal in their actions against crime] So already the seeds of the Borg are among us.

    If you do not want to become a Borg in the present or future life, you will have to provide a better solution than the experience that the Borg will be.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • Do you really think it's all that challenging to make something waterproof? It's not a great engineering feat. A few rubber seals, some O-rings around the cords, and you're all set. As long as heat isn't a problem, (solved by simply keeping things at low power, which this already does.)there is no reason it can't be sealed from water.
  • by grovertime ( 237798 ) on Sunday June 10, 2001 @08:10AM (#162692) Homepage
    I'm not sure if this is true so I'd like some yay or nay if anyone knows. In the film Star Wars, there is a mercenary called Bobafet (I'm sure my spelling is off, but if you know him you know him). Apparently a few guys at MIT (they may or may not have been involved in the wearable initiatives) want to create some sort of skin graft/chip imbedding mechanism so that you can have a type of control center that pops up neatly on a two inch by half inch segment of your forearm. I know this sounds ridiculous but someone I respect emailed me the details so if you've heard of anything like it, do tell.

    1. is this for REAL? []
  • Have you considered using eye-pointing when designing the interface? i.e. glance and blink to switch between tasks. It strikes me as a very natural and quick way to interact with the system. I mention this as I was involved with very early research into this area a few years ago. (I was a guinea pig not one of the designers.) Ok, way back then it did take up half a workbench and involved bouncing lasers off the back of my eye (but did give out a cool robocop whine as I looked around). I bet someone has got it scaled down by now. Perhaps using multiple ccd cameras facing the eyeball and some image recognition software? Excellent work, well done all of you.
  • Sadly, they work in the "Borglab." Check out the caption in the photo [].
  • For a load of laughs see the page: .html

    It was drawn by EvilBorg too, and almost a year ago.
  • And the cluster fits conveniently in a hamper, a closet, or wadded up on the floor.

  • You sick, sick fuck! There is nothing anywhere to back this up. If you're going to make wild claims like this, it helps your credibility to provide a link to a story or some kind of proof of what you're saying. Right now we're left to conclude that you're full of shit. I hope you're proud of yourself for your bogus post. I can't imagine anyone else thinking too highly of you for this.
  • How often have you spilled coffee on an article of your clothing? Pretty often, right? Now what if that article of clothing had $1000 attached to it? Until wearable computers are waterproof, and in fact can take almost as much punishment as regular clothing, their usefullness will be limited.

    By the way, who else felt pretty blue after reading the Swordfish review? :-)

Loose bits sink chips.