Many people may be surprised to learn that the first wearable tech came from attempts to cheat casinos out of money. Wearable tech became a reality for singular inventors with innovative minds in the 1960s and 1970s. Tech-focused functional wearables stayed small-scale (for the most part) until the 21st century, when the introduction of Bluetooth headsets started the tech boom. Before 2000, wearable tech was cumbersome and not particularly user-friendly. The year 2000 spurred a massive proliferation of wearable tech that was not only functional on the large scale, but also user-friendly and monetarily accessible (in other words, it wasn’t ridiculously expensive and unweildy).
Let’s take a stroll through wearable tech’s memory lane, and see the evolution of the devices that are designed to help humans in their day-to-day activities.
The very first wearable tech came in the form of a “wearable” computer in 1961. MIT mathematics professor, Edward Thorp, designed a wearable computer that was programmed to cheat at roulette. The device was successful, giving the wearer a 44% increase in likeliness to win at the game.
The next major wearable tech breakthrough came from Keith Taft in 1972. The purpose of Taft’s wearable computer was to gain a calculation advantage in the card game blackjack. The computer was named “George,” weighed 15 pounds, and was operated by Taft’s big toes. This wearable computer did not show as much promise as Thorp’s; Taft retired the computer after having lost $4000 in one weekend at a blackjack table, ouch!
The first widely popular wearable tech was the calculator wristwatch, which was introduced in 1975, but gained most of its popularity in the 1980s. Pulsar introduced the first wrist calculator, which gained major traction with the tagline, “For the man who had everything until just now…” Many copycat wristwatches were introduced in the early to mid ‘80s, with the Casio Databank gaining the most popularity.
Fast-forward to 1987, when we introduced the first publically available digital hearing aids. The pioneer hearing aids did not gain much of a following and saw little success due to their short battery life and large size. But as we know today, the digital hearing aid evolved into a widely used piece of wearable tech.
In 1994, Steve Mann designed the first wearable wireless webcam system and was one of the first people to upload his daily images to the web. Mann is believed to be one of the very first “lifeloggers.”
Upon entering the 21st century, we see the beginning of a massive tech boom. The first wearable tech that became widely popular was the Bluetooth headset. From there, we see a barrage of wearable tech, with popular devices popping up almost every year. Some of the more popular devices were: the Poma PC wearable computer in 2002, the Vitatron C-Series digital pacemaker in 2003, the Nike+iPod movement tracker in 2006, Glacier’s W200 Wearable Computer in 2009, the Pebble customizable smartwatch in 2012, and finally, Google Glass head-mounted computer in 2013.
Which brings us to our current year of 2014, which was deemed “The Year of the Wearable” by the tech industry as a whole. This year is predicted to be flooded with wearable tech gadgets; from wearable thermoelectric power generators to energy harvesting wearable rings. We are sure to see some great gadget reveals at the Wearable Technologies Conference in San Francisco on July 8-9, 2014. Whatever the wearable tech future may hold for us, it is always good to see innovation blossom, especially when it can benefit the health of humans and society as a whole.