Smart watches? Smart glasses? Nein. The future lies in hairpieces.
A talking toupée? It might one day be a reality if Sony decides to do anything with a new patent it has been awarded, broadly titled "Wearable Computing Device". However, in the patent abstract is where it gets more detailed: "Wearable computing device, comprising a wig that is adapted to cover at least a part of a head of a user, at least one sensor for providing input data, a processing unit that is coupled to the at least one sensor for processing said input data, and a communication interface that is coupled to the processing unit for communicating with a second computing device. The at least one sensor, the processing unit and the communication interface are arranged in the wig and at least partly covered by the wig in order to be visually hidden during use."
Yes, that's exactly what it sounds like: a hairpiece with embedded, hidden electronics and sensors, AKA the SmartWig. These are designed to provide tactile feedback — either vibrations or small electric shocks — directly to the wearer's scalp. These could be to notify the wearer of a text message, phone call or email; or, in concert with a GPS, help alert the wearer when they are headed in the wrong direction.
Also proposed are the inclusion of ultrasound transducers, which could detect when an object is near the wearer's head and warn the user that they're about to receive a bump. Additionally, Sony proposes the inclusion of a communication system: a small video camera embedded in the wig (we imagine it might go something like this) that could also take photos, as well as a small speaker and mic.
Business applications include presentations: Sony describes a system whereby the user could touch buttons embedded in his (or her, but we assume his in this case) sideburns to flick through the slides in, for example, a PowerPoint presentation.
Position sensors could also let the wearer know if the wig was on crooked — which is deeply important. You don't, after all, wear a wig to look silly. But we mostly just liked Sony's description of its target demographics:
Wigs are useful to enhance a user's appearance and change other's impressions because different hairstyles give different impressions. Thus, many people use wigs. Especially bald people that usually wear wigs in their daily life could take advantage of the wide variety of functions that are provided by the wearable computing device proposed herein. However, other conceivable appliances are film or playing actors that commonly use wigs to play different roles. Also, many so-called "cosplayers" (costume players: a form of role-play) wear wigs and costumes to imitate their favourite characters in comics and animated films. In all cases, users wear wigs to enhance their appearance.
As most patents of this kind never see the light of day, Sony's SmartWig is unlikely to materialise. We have to admit, in this case, our disappointment is palpable. It sounds magnificent.
You can check out the full patent online at the USPTO website.