The interwebs were set ablaze by our earlier article showing you an awesome wearable computer setup powered by a Sony VAIO UX380N UMPC. Now we’re back with more from the creator himself. I sat down (virtually) with fiveseven808 and asked him som questions about his wearable computing setup and what he might hope to do with it in the future.
UMPCP – Q: What modifications needed to be made to the MyVu Crystal head mounted display?
Fiveseven808 – A: Removal of the displays from the original MyVu display unit, removal of the second display from the MyVu connector, and I had to find and build a suitable frame/mount for the display used and then splice together four conductor cables with a pulldown resistor to make something so that the UX will auto detect and interface properly with the MyVu display controller.
UMPCP – Q: What would you estimate the cost of the project to be, excluding the price of the VAIO UX380.
Fiveseven808 – A: Mmm… cellphone = $30+$10/mo, USB cable = free from an old portable HDD, external battery = $120 (but a battery of twice the capacity can be built for less than half), HMD [head mounted display] = $150 (from craigslist) and then whatever input device you want to use, I guess. I have so many input devices and no real standard one for my wearable computer yet, I’d rather not try and force it into the costs… pretty much everyone has a Bluetooth and java enabled cell phone that can be used as an input device though.
UMPCP – Q: Ok, so a cell phone was used as the input device?
Fiveseven808 – A: It was/is my main input device as I walk around as I don’t like the responsiveness or look of the Frogpad, and I use my BT keyboard and mouse when I’m sitting down as I can input stuff faster. An application for a phone with a physical qwerty keyboard and touchscreen like the G1 would easily serve as both and quite effectively too if I may add. I don’t have a G1 nor the programming experience to make it happen though, and I figure if you’re already holding a device, why not use the computing power in that device itself? That’s why I moved to my glove input idea.
UMPCP – Q: Could you only input text, or were you able to use the mouse as well?
Fiveseven808 – A: I was able to use both, but I was using my old Nokia and controlling the mouse with it was not the easiest thing in the world. Doable, but not worth it for long term use.
UMPCP – Q: How did you use the phone to interact with the mouse, exactly?
Fiveseven808 – A: The four-way d-pad on my phone was used to control mouse movements. Soft keys were used to control mouse clicks. I think the asterisk key allowed general text entry (written on the phone then sent as a string to the computer so predictive text could be used).
UMPCP – Q: That is all done with Bluetooth?
Fiveseven808 – A: Yep, all done with Bluetooth. Through use of my system, I found that ANY wires at all, is a pain, and makes the system less useful. Display is an exception since I cant find/make a receiver small enough to fit inside the glasses or around neck.
UMPCP – Q: So the entire system fits inside of a backpack?
Fiveseven808 – A: Yep! Fit inside a medium purse sized bag as well. Quite small really. That backpack I showed is about half the size of a regular backpack as it’s a biking pack. Everything fit in there quite nicely with room to spare for other stuff.
UMPCP – Q: How long could the system run with the extra juice from the external battery?
Fiveseven808 – A: Theoretically it could run everything for an average of eight hours, but in reality it was more like 6-7 hours, and with my UX suffocating inside without much ventilation, the figure went down to 4-5 [due to constant fan use]. $60 more would’ve bought me the parts to run the UX an extra 10-15 hours.
UMPCP – Q: How does the display look when you have it right up to your eye, or in your case, against your glasses?
A: Actually, they’re the same as MyVu’s optics claims (which are quite bogus if you ask me). I did some real world tests and it came out to be something like a 5-6 inch display at about a foot and a half or so away from your face
UMPCP – Q: So it’s basically like looking at the UX’s screen on a desk?
Fiveseven808 – A: MyVu claims something spectacular like 60 inches at 20 feet, but in reality the optics only focus the display about a foot and a half away from your face, and the size is only like 5 inches at that distance. It’s an experience on its own, it’s hard to compare it to something really.
UMPCP – Q: What resolution does the MyVu HMD provide?
Fiveseven808 – A: 640×480
UMPCP – Q: Wow, that low?
Fiveseven808 – A: That’s actually extremely high resolution for only costing $300. Before MyVu came out with their displays, a monocular VGA HMD (from what the company used to be) could easily run you $2.3K. Usually wearable computing enthusiasts use command line based operating systems as most “affordable”(and I use the term lightly) HMDs don’t have the resolution or quality to display proper GUIs.
UMPCP – Q: So what were you able to use your setup for?
Fiveseven808 – A: Haha, Facebook/Myspace, email, instant messages, scanning for access points. Not much really. I only had my system for about a week or two before it finally died. I’ve been trying to get a viable wearable computing system for almost 10 years now and this was the first time not much went wrong… at least until my UX died.
UMPCP – Q: You have WWAN connectivity for $10/month?
Fiveseven808 – A: The first thing I mentioned when I was naming off prices was a cell phone for $30 plus $3/month fee (corrected). I’m using a tethered iDEN phone off of the Boostmobile/Nextel network. Technically it’s kind of like an exploit; the phone is prepaid, accessing the iden packet network does not deduct anything from your account. iDEN phones also allow for tethering. The $3 a month is only because you have to keep your account topped off every three months (min $10 refill). So technically, internet is free (if you don’t count the money you’re required to deposit in your “prepaid account” to keep your account “active”). It’s half the speed of dialup though! But works literally anywhere you get cell reception, so I think its well worth it lol.
UMPCP – Q: Would you call your wearable computer practical, experimental, or somewhere in between?
Fiveseven808 – A: Somewhere in between. The platform is about 80% complete, but the usability is like 20% since there’s no real application for it (I dont have one yet at least lol). I say it’s more of an experiment until I pour more money to get it working again, and find out what works and what doesn’t. I’d love to see a “real” wearable computer that’s marketable to the general public, but with the boom of smartphones, I doubt it’ll ever come to fruitition until someone does the research to find out what works, what people want, and what they’re willing to put up with (size/weight/performance/price) etc. I figure my project is the research point for all of that.
UMPCP – Q: Let’s say programming knowledge and bandwidth wasn’t an issue. How could you see yourself using the setup in terms of augmented reality?
Fiveseven808 – A: As of now there’s no infrastructure set up to accomodate augmented reality. There’s quite an interesting ‘windowing” system out there that uses flat surfaces like windows/billboards/signs and what not as “screens” to be used with an eyetap like device to display relevant information, but as of now, HMD’s don’t have the resolution for that kind of application. In a place like Japan where QR codes and other 2D barcode are the norm, something like that augmented reality windowing system coupled with them, could provide instant ads anywhere also coupled with the relevance of the invidivual viewing them. In any situation that requires you to refer to a manual, set of instructions, or some kind of reference material, having the material always on display in front of you as you work is also quite invaluable. There’s quite literally an ‘infite” amount of applications for wearable computers; there just isn’t a balance point of price/performance/comfort ratio that people are willing to put up with, at least not yet.
UMPCP – Q: Do you think, in your lifetime, we’ll see some sort of widespread wearable computer (which may or may not be similar to the setup you are using now)?
Fiveseven808 – A: I’d like to think so, but at the current pace of wearable computers and the speed in which things like netbooks and smart phones are taking off, probably not. I’m studying electrical engineering, and while my specialty is more towards robotics than other specialities that would help wearable computing, I will certainly do my part to advance the field!
I’m happy to report that at this point, fiveseven808 has fixed his Sony VAIO UX ultra mobile PC by baking it in an oven and reflowing the solder, apparently fixing the issue. He’s currently working on an improved mount for the HMD. We’ll keep an eye on this sweet setup and let you know of any cool developments.