Not so at Show RCA 2017 where design and engineering students from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London have been showing off fresh and futuristic ideas of what wearables can do, how they should look and the ways in which we interact with them.
Here's our picks from the concepts and prototypes on show from this year's cohort. Some could make their way to the market; others could help existing companies and startups rethink their approach.
We've seen a bunch of AR manual apps before but Sensei, by IDE MA student Daljinder Sanghera, takes a different approach with a wearable camera 'headset' to show the instructor a first person view of what you're dealing with as they talk you through the task.
That instructor could be a real person working in the knowledge/gig economy or an AI (for things like assembling IKEA furniture) and the idea is that the wearer can complete the task without any faffing around with videos, recipes or articles on phones or computers. The wearable does work together with a mobile app, though, for when visual assistance makes more sense.
Marie Tricaud's Touch√© is a musical instrument and a set of wearable haptic pads that combine to create a synaesthetic concert that translates music to the skin of the listener/wearer. Any MIDI keyboard can be plugged in to control the pads; the tactile interface allows musicians to control vibration loops and temperature pulses on the bodies of their audiences.
As for the potential of the tech, according to IDE MA/ student Tricaud, "data such as the heart rate or body temperature of the audience could be fed back to the performer or used to create interactive experiences, both on a tactile and audio level."
Unlike some of the other projects featured here, Sano was developed for an existing bio-engineering startup at Imperial called Corticare UK. MA Design Products student Alistar Magrini designed this portable device to house Corticare's cortisol biosensor, which works by analysing a saliva sample.
Aimed at gym goers, dieters and athletes, Sano can track stress through the day by measuring cortisol levels and offer tips in a variety of situations - trying to improve sleep, lower stress or fight weight gain.
Scroll is a really neat solution to the problem of controls in augmented reality. Nat Martin's smart ring ditches big, expansive gestures in favour of more precision, closer to surfaces - I tried out a (wired) prototype at the exhibition and it worked nicely too.
The Innovation Design Engineering student has also built his own AR interface based around a timeline that adapts to the space around you. So in the demo video, you can stroke the side of the ring to scroll through menu options in AR interfaces and raise 3D model buildings onto maps on the ground in front of you. We like this a lot.
Eun Kyung Shin's Hyperface project combines AI, Snapchat filters and headsets to futuristic effect. The tech would augment our facial expression, particularly in stressful or uncomfortable situations where we'd want to keep things cool and smooth in the reactions department.
Ultimately, the IDE student is viewing the face as an "interface", which can be manipulated to improve your social skills - when the situation requires more empathy, it can display empathy. Of course, it'll be a while until we're used to seeing people walking around with social mask headsets on, so the overriding reaction you'll be dealing with will be awkward surprise.
The Third Thumb
Who fancies an extra thumb, 3D printed, flexible and controlled by two pressure sensors in your shoes? Danielle Clode's project sees two options for the Third Thumb - firstly as an electronic tool (with interest from jewellery designers to falcon handlers) and secondly as "kinetic jewellery" inspired by body modification and tattoos.
Clode wants to reframe the idea of prosthetics as not just fixing disabilities but also extending abilities. That's the kind of thinking that will pave the way for cyborgs - hey, we're on board with that.
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