We live in an era of rapid technological advancement. One area that has seen huge growth in recent years is wearable technology devices that can be worn on our bodies to enhance and assist our daily lives. As these devices continue to develop, an important consideration is how they affect our natural view of the world around us. After all, being present and aware of our surroundings is key for things like safety, focus, and enjoyment.
Types of Wearable Devices
There are several main categories of wearable devices available today and in development:
Smartwatches and Fitness Trackers
These are worn on the wrist like a regular watch. They can provide notifications, track health metrics, and run apps. However, having a screen right in front of your eyes that can light up with alerts could be distracting and block subtle views to the side.
Augmented reality glasses aim to overlay digital information onto what the wearer sees. Completely opaque models block outside light, fully immersed in a digital view. See through versions like Google Glass allow actual sight perception along with an AR overlay, but still add visual clutter.
Earbuds and headphones designed to provide audio information and experiences are becoming smarter. TheyResting outside or inside the ear canal, they don’t obstruct sight much, especially bone conduction headphones that deliver audio vibrations without blocking the ear canal. But audio stimuli still divides attention from visual surroundings.
Factors That Impact Obstruction
Several factors influence whether a wearable tech device interferes with unaltered sight:
- Placement: Devices positioned right in front of the eyes or eyeglasses are more visually blocking compared to ones off to the side of the field of view.
- Opacity: See-through lenses allow outside light to still reach the eyes compared to fully enclosed light emitting screens.
- Notifications: It’s not only the physical hardware blocking sight, but also alerts commanding visual attention to a screen.
- Audio Effects: Audio information delivered into the ears is less visually obstructing but still redirects focus away from natural sights and sounds.
Most Unobtrusive Types of Wearables
Taking into account these factors, below are promising categories of wearable devices designed to minimize blocking or diverting attention from the real world around the user:
Rather than positioning a display right in front of the eyes, peripheral smartglasses like Echo Frames place an AR overlay in the corners of vision via tiny projecting speakers near the temples. This grants digital connectivity while mostly preserving central sight of actual surroundings.
Transparent Smart Contact Lenses
Contact lenses with embedded electronics are entering development, aiming to provide a heads up display undetectable to others. Placing tech directly on the eye surface allows for maximum transparency so outside light passes through virtually unblocked to the retina.
Tiny microchip implants under the skin could offer internal data connectivity. Being fully hidden from sight under the skin, these wireless implants theoretically provide no sight obstruction at all, creating an intimate link between body and technology.
Basic wireless earbuds allow audio information to augment but not dominate other senses. Some models are specifically designed to remain aware of ambient sounds in the environment, not fully isolating the wearer. Less bombarding audio makes it easier to integrate outside sights.
Key Principles to Avoid Visual Obstruction
No matter what wearable tech form factor engineers pursue next, they would do well to follow these principles to avoid blocking or distracting from the unmodified sights around users:
- Embed tech in such a way that it falls outside the centerline of sight.
- Use transparent materials to allow actual light to permeate through and reach the eyes.
- Prevent unnecessary notifications and audio effects demanding attention. Allow the user to control digital stimuli.
- Design wearables holistically by considering how other sensory channels might be leveraged instead of overloaded visual or auditory effects.
Following these principles can lead to wearable devices that feel like natural extensions of our bodies, avoiding detached virtual immersion or distraction. The most promising wearable tech aims to enhance our perception of the real world, not replace it.
|Wearable Device Category
|Visual Obstruction Level
|Augmented Reality Headsets (Opaque)
|Completely encloses eyes/blocks outside light with screens close to eyes
|Total immersion in digital content
|Isolating, blocks real world visibility
|Augmented Reality Smart Glasses (See-Through)
|Semi transparent display enables some outside light but still partially obstructed
|Allows both digital overlay and real world views
|Can be distracting, still partially blocked
|Haptic Feedback Wearables
|Tap skin with vibration pulses to deliver information
|Non visual for minimal sight obstruction
|Range of information delivery limited
|Bone Conduction Hearables
|Deliver sound via cheek vibrations, leaving ear canal open
|Allow simultaneous external sound interaction
|Audio information still divides some attention
|Project images and data directly onto eye surface
|Extremely unobtrusive projection technology
|Technical limitations on capability continue
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of wearable device is the least visually distracting?
Peripheral smartglasses and transparent smart contact lenses aim to augment but not obstruct natural sight, while subdermal implants placed under the skin also promise completely unimpeded views.
Do AR smartglasses block my view?
It depends on the model. Completely enclosed opaque glasses with screens do obstruct outside light. But see-through glasses with projected AR overlays in the corner of vision allow mostly unaltered sights straight ahead.
Can I adjust notifications on wearables to avoid distraction?
Yes, most wearables allow you to limit or even turn off notifications appearing on screens or audio alerts to minimize how much they divide your attention. User customization helps optimize unobtrusive operation.
How might wearables leverage other senses besides sight?
Skin based haptic feedback and spatialized audio effects can deliver information without visual distraction. Multi sensory integration into technology that feels like a natural extension of self is a promising direction.
Which companies are developing transparent smart contact lens technology?
Startups like Mojo Vision and InWith are currently developing contacts with image and data projection. Major players like Google and Samsung have research divisions exploring concepts for smart contacts too.
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