Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
News & Events

Wearable Technology: Where Design & Function Connect

Launched in Fall 2013 by Assistant Professor Kevin Ponto, the Wearable Technology course is the nexus of design, innovation, imagination and function. Dr. Ponto has a joint appointment with the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, and his research objectives aim to “develop techniques to better the experience of virtual reality through new devices, interfaces, and techniques.”

Dr. Ponto recently sat down with Linda Zwicker to talk about the class, ethics and the future of wearable technology.

What inspired you to teach the wearable technology class?

I was looking for ways to combine my knowledge and skill set with the expertise of the students in the Textiles and Fashion design major.  The course was the product of several brainstorming sessions with Department Chair Roberto Rengel, Professor Jenny Angus, Associate Professor Carolyn Kallenborn, and Emelia Haglund.  Emelia and I spent the summer of 2013 designing the original Wearable Computing curriculum in an effort to make the course accessible to a wide range of students.

Have you found that there is a topic or activity that seems to excite/engage the students?

One of the things that was incredibly rewarding for students was the first day of creating a functioning piece of wearable technology.  Many students were worried about their abilities to sew, program, and work with electronics; however, seeing their first prototype device running was a real eye-opening moment for them.

What do you hope students will take away?

I hope that my students will take away a new-found efficacy for technology and feel empowered to develop their own devices.  Students from previous classes have already found success in this regard. Projects initially created through the course have won the Show Stopper Award at the 2014 Threads Fashion show and continued work from the course produced a project that won an honorable mention at Costume-Con 2014.  Teams developed in the course went on to develop a Smart Band-Aid that won the 2014 Qualcomm Innovation Challenge.

Where do you see the field of wearable technology headed?

In the last few years, the presence of wearable technology has grown so it’s now common to find a section of wearable technology in a local department store. Despite this increased presence, the current selection of goods consists of small-scale electronic devices designed to monitor health data. I believe the true potential of wearable technology involves a seamless integration of technology and apparel.

You’ve mentioned that in the class you discuss ethical issues surrounding virtual reality. Can you give me an example?

Recent research has shown that virtual reality (VR) has the ability to alter one’s subconscious thoughts, implicit racial bias, and concept of self.  The issue becomes much more interesting (and potentially unnerving) when the user can no longer differentiate between the physical and virtual worlds. We are working to develop a conference series dedicated to this subject in collaboration with the Living Environments Laboratory.

Your research is focused on the human experience of immersive data visualization. What does that mean?

Presenting data in an immersive setting (i.e., in virtual reality) results in an entirely different experience than presenting information on a standard screen.  The immersive visualization gives the user a sense of space and dimensionality; however, there are a number of discrepancies between the way virtual environments are presented and how they are experienced.  My research aims to better understand the perception of the individual user so that we can create a more accurate and comfortable experience.