(a.k.a. Personal Cybernetics, Personal Technologies, Eudaemonic Computing, Humanistic Computing, Existential Computing)

A wearable computer is a computer, worn and controlled by a user, that is always on and always accessible. That is, the user can always enter and execute commands, even while walking around or doing other activities.

Unlike other wearable devices (wristwatches, regular eyeglasses, wearable radios, etc.), a WearComp is as reconfigurable as the familiar desktop or mainframe computer. Unlike other computers (including laptops and PDAs), a WearComp is inextricably intertwined with its wearer - WearComp's "always ready" characteristic leads to a new form of synergy between human and computer.

Wearable computing will now be formally defined in terms of its three basic modes of operation and its six fundamental attributes.

Operational modes of wearable computing
There are three operational modes in this new interaction between human and computer:

Fig. 2 Fig. 2
Wearable computing is a framework for enabling various degrees of each of these three fundamental modes of operation. Collectively, the space of possible signal flows giving rise to this entire space of possibilities, is depicted in Fig 2.

While individual embodiments of wearable computing may use some mixture of these concepts, the signal path depicted in Fig 2 provides a general framework for comparison and study of these systems. The signal paths typically each, in fact, include multiple signals, hence multiple parallel signal paths are depicted in this figure to make this plurality of signals explicit.

The Six Attributes (Signal Paths) of Wearable Computing
There are six informational flow paths associated with this new human-machine synergy. These signal flow paths are, in fact, attributes of wearable computing, and are described, in what follows, from the human's point of view:
  1. Unmonopolizing of the user's attention: it does not cut you off from the outside world like a virtual reality game or the like. You can attend to other matters while using the apparatus. It is built with the assumption that computing will be a secondary activity, rather than a primary focus of attention. In fact, ideally, it will provide enhanced sensory capabilities. It may, however, mediate (augment, alter, or deliberately diminish) the sensory capabilities.
  2. Unrestrictive to the user: it is ambulatory, mobile, roving; "you can do other things while using it". E.g. you can type while jogging, etc.
  3. Observable by the user: it can get your attention continuously if you want it to; within reasonable limits (e.g. that you might not see the screen while you blink or look away momentarily) the output medium is constantly perceptible by the wearer.
  4. Controllable by the user:
  5. Attentive to the environment: it is environmentally aware, multimodal, multisensory. (this ultimately increases the user's situational awareness).
  6. Communicative to others: it can be used as a communications medium when you want it to.
Implied by the above six properties is that it must also be: Note that a computer mediation device with sufficient bandwidth can synthesize or even heighten the augmentational aspects. For example a sufficiently attentive computer can sustain a sufficient illusion of being unmonopolizing that it could encapsulate the user and still provide the same experience as system running in the augmentational mode of operation. Similarly, a sufficiently communicative machine, especially if "machine" is broadened to include mechanical mediation devices such as motorized exoskeletons, can synthesize the unrestrictive attribute.
The most salient aspect of computers (wearable or not) is their reconfigurability and their generality, e.g. that their function can be made to vary widely, depending on the instructions provided for program execution.
Adapted from Steve Mann's address Wearable Computing as Means for Personal Empowerment