Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

Obstacles to wearable computing

Helen Oliver

December 2021, 318 pages

Funded and supported by The Alan Turing Institute Doctoral Scheme

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted June 2020 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Murray Edwards College.

DOI: 10.48456/tr-966


In the year 2021, wearable technology could look beautiful and feel magical, but instead is exemplified by a plain wristband that looks suspiciously like a prison monitor.

How can we make wearable technology that respects our privacy, enhances our daily lives, integrates with our other connected devices without leashing us to a smartphone, and visually expresses who we are?

This study uses a novel method of participatory design fiction (PDFi) to understand potential users of everyday wearable technology through storytelling. I recruited participants from the general public and gave them a five-point prompt to create a design fiction (DF), which inspired the user-centred design of an everyday connected wearable device. The participants each received a technology probe to wear in the wild for a year. They then updated their DFs as a way to reflect on the implications of the technology. For the purposes of privacy, augmenting device functionality through interoperability, and integration into an Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, I used the Hub-of-All-Things personal data store to provide the software infrastructure.

By listening to their stories, we can elicit design concepts directly from the users, to help us create wearable IoT devices that put the wearer at the centre of the design process, and are satisfying both functionally and emotionally.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Oliver, Helen},
  title = 	 {{Obstacles to wearable computing}},
  year = 	 2021,
  month = 	 dec,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  doi = 	 {10.48456/tr-966},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-966}