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Thursday 18th January 2001, 1200 GMT
Suits you sir - the latest software that you really can wear
Bristol University's Cyberjacket can be used in a variety of roles.

The very latest fashion item for computer fans, tourists and people with visual impairments is being designed in Bristol.

Scientists at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol have developed the "Cyberjacket", a wearable mobile computer system.

The jacket, modelled on an ordinary biker's jacket, contains a wealth of computer and communications systems built into its fabric.

Prof. David May
Professor David May

Those include a Global Positioning System unit to tell the wearer exactly where they are. Scientists say this, combined with stored information, could be used to guide tourists around any area in the world.

One of those behind the project, Professor David May, said:"The GPS always knows where it is. if you combine this with stored information in the computer it can guide people through the streets and tell them what is of interest around them."

The system could also be used to find other people. Jacket wearers could search, probably via the internet, for the location of other jackets and find out where friends or business contacts are currently located.

Prof. Barry Thomas
Professor Barry Thomas

There is still a great deal of development before the jacket will become commercially viable but much of the computer work has already been done to prove the system is workable.

Another use for the jacket, also being developed at Bristol University, is as an aid for the visually impaired.

Combining the jacket and computer with a special headset would allow pictures from a helmet camera to be converted into colourful images more easily recognisable to people with poor eyesight and then displayed on a special set of glasses.

The man behind this research is Professor Barry Thomas.

He says:"The images presented would be highly stylised and almost psychedelic consisting of vivid colours and graphic representations of an area, but our research shows they would be easier for people with limited vision to follow."

Using jacket
Inside the jacket links to a headset for visually impaired users.

Professor May believes the jacket will become commercially available but is not putting any time-scale on when it will be in the shops.

He says:"It is not always possible to say what is commercially interesting at a given time."

One possible use for the jacket which may prove a winner with young singles is as a dating aid. The jacket's systems can be set to give out information about the wearer which would then be available to anyone else with a jacket.

Professor May explained:"You could find out what you needed to know about the person next to you without having to question them. That could be useful whether dating or at a big business meeting."

Mobile phones

Wearable technology, as the Cyberjacket is properly known, is already available in the shops to a limited degree.

Fashion company Levi Strauss last year introduced a jacket designed to hold a mobile phone system with built in hands-free systems and pouches to hold phones and connect cables inside the clothing.

The Cyberjacket is a long way ahead of that but may not be in your local fashion store for some time.

Images from computer
On the left how a visually impaired person might see a street scene and on the right how the Cyberjacket computer converts the image.

Images courtesy of University of Bristol Department of Computer Science.


Hear BBC Radio Bristol's Rachel Burden trying out the Cyberjacket.
Internet links:

University of Bristol

Computer vision research group

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