Wearable Technologies : Seamless integration between the Digital and Physical Worlds

For this week’s blog post, instead of looking at how the seamless world of content is disrupted by that which contains it, I am going to look at how wearable technologies can potentially do the opposite of that by seamlessly integrating the digital and physical world.

A brief history of wearable computing

Steve Mann is a pioneer and inventor of wearable technologies from the early 90’s. Some refer to him as the father of wearables since they have been a part of his life and body since the 1980’s. He has tackled issues such as privacy, sousveillance, and cyborg-law (Wikipedia, 2016). One of his inventions developed at the MIT Media Lab from 1994-1998, Sixth Sense, is a gesture-based wearable device that comprises of a camera, mirror, and projector worn around the neck (Wikipedia, 2016). His designs were further developed by Pranav Mistry in 2012. It is named Sixth Sense because it supplies extra information directly to the user, in addition to their five senses (Wikipedia, 2016).

Sixth Sense (not the movie…)

I will focus on the design of Sixth Sense by Pranav Mistry and some of the ideas for the device. Pranav’s logic is that we interact with our environment with our five senses that give us information and parses knowledge of the world around us. His idea is to bring information from the digital world to the physical world without the reliance on either physical-based mediums such as paper or digitally on a screen (Mistry, 2010). We should be able to interact with our world using natural hand gestures that we are all familiar with. For example, taking a picture by making a rectangle with our fingers. By projecting information onto any physical surface a person could browse the web or send an email. Pranav’s TED Talk on Sixth Sense shows you all the possibilities of the device.

Breaking the container

The rise of mobile devices and computing have tied us to either a space or device that mediates our experiences through a screen. I found Sixth Sense to be interesting because it seamlessly integrates the digital world with the physical one. For example, in his TED Talk, Pranav is reading a newspaper; the device scans the picture in the headline about a Presidential speech and the video of the talk can be played right on the surface of the paper being held. There was no need to use another device to look up the video or additional information. Every task can be done through the device around your neck using the materials around you and natural hand gestures. Instead of having to carry a dedicated e-reader, tablet, or physical book any surface can be used to project text. If a surface is not available the hand can be used as well. I find something like this extremely useful and it plays with the idea of containers by eliminating the need for them. The spheres of physical and digital are no longer separated by different devices but are seamlessly integrated into one medium. It will be very exciting to see where the development of this technology goes.


Mistry, Pranav. (2010). Sixth Sense: Integrating information with the Real World. http://www.pranavmistry.com/projects/sixthsense/

Wikipedia contributors, “SixthSense,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=SixthSense&oldid=706133763 (accessed March 10, 2016).

Wikipedia contributors, “Steve Mann,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Steve_Mann&oldid=708447748 (accessed March 10, 2016).

3 thoughts on “Wearable Technologies : Seamless integration between the Digital and Physical Worlds”

  1. Hi Amrita,

    I think this elimination of the container in the digital realm is really fascinating. What I am interested in here is the heightened participation of the wearer in relation to sousveillance but also surveillance. In terms of sousveillance, this reminds me of dashcams for cars, except it is right on your body. Essentially, this device could always be filming, couldn’t it? While this may come in handy if it captured a crime or some sort of incident, it could also be very invasive.

    In terms of surveillance, do you know if there are ways for corporations or organizations to access the data or footage collected by these devices? While there may be benefits to some data mining here, there is certainly a fine line between good and bad uses. I think like any technology, we should be equally excited and wary about the possible benefits and disadvantages. How do you feel about the moral implications of this device?


  2. Hey Stephanie:

    Sixth Sense was never implemented, it stayed as a prototype. I believe that it would be on all the time however, it may be in standby mode until the finger portions of it activates it via gesture (I may be wrong though).
    In terms of sousveillance I think there would need to be policies governing its use just as with everything else. When I think of surveillance I think of the power structures behind them. Who is watching, what information is being recorded and by whom? I like the idea of sousveillance as an antithesis of surveillance because it redistributes the power back from a top-down system. We’re already living in a surveillance society with very little power to resist large organizations. I agree with you that there can be good and bad uses of technology, morally I don’t think we can do anything except ensure that there are laws and policies in place to govern technologies from becoming intrusive. However, they already are intrusive and there is little we can do about it.

    1. I agree with your thoughts on sousveillance as an antithesis of surveillance, and on the power structures that govern surveillance. I think another essential question to ask of those who are behind our surveillance is what is the information recorded being used for? Often in the world of surveillance data, the original purpose of data collection morphs into something else (known as “function creep”). While this sometimes happens in a natural, evolutionary way which is relatively harmless, it can also be quite threatening or dangerous to those being surveilled. In any case, the idea of wearable sousveillance technologies opens up a lot of different possibilities in this field. Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *