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Wearable Linux: Notes from the Field

Business Now Embracing Wearable Linux

  • May 22, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

The 495 Beltway around Washington is nothing to trifle with during the noon rush. Bumper-to-bumper traffic, ugly driving, stick and move. I don't know if I saw or felt the Mercedes that nearly got me in the middle of a hasty lane change: I just know that I knew to swerve, and managed to glimpse a ton of silver steel hurtling past in the lane formerly known as "mine."

That's the kind of incident it's hard to work into any sort of narrative outside the normal war stories people from the bucolic environs of Central Virginia tell when they return from the big city. Unless it ties in neatly with technology's current Big Thing: embedded systems, and, freshly emerged from the hardware-hacker ghetto: wearable computing. Throw in the fact that a penguin-loving Canadian has the answer to all my driving worries, and that near-death experience on the mean highways of the capital turns into a swell lead.

Xybernaut Corp. is serious about bringing the wearable computer to the corporate world. More appropriately, they're interested in bringing the wearable computer to anywhere people with corporate budgets will pay for them. A quick glance over their backgrounder tells the story: wearable computers might represent $1.5 billion in market share by the end of this year. Xybernaut imagines a world where computers and, by extension, information, are ubiquitous and connected. Maybe even more key to Xybernaut's vision: these ubiquitous computers are useable by everybody.

With a vision for computing that puts a wearable on every laborer's belt, it makes good sense that Xybernaut would sponsor the Fifth Annual International Conference on Wearable Computing. Considering how filled the trade press is with news of the Linux explosion in embedded systems, it made good sense for me to be there to see where Tux might be turning up in this new industry.

I remembered the first time I ever came across a wearable enthusiast's homepage: picture upon picture of a very serious-looking person peering out from behind 20 pounds of goggles and gear. If any area of computing seems matched to the Linux spirit, it's that older generation of wearable enthusiasts with their hacked and duct-taped gear and their tales of flipping down their video visor over both eyes and going "completely mediated."

The sight of the Ritz-Carlton, where the conference was held, quickly convinced me that this wasn't likely going to be a cozy gathering of hobbyists from the strange intersection of homebrew computing and any episode of Star Trek with Borg in it. Comforted that the socks I'd picked to wear with my Birkenstocks were clean, I braced myself for a long day of weaving in and out of a crowd, hoping to find that one garrulous Linux enthusiast who'd make my story.

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