Wearable technology is everywhere. There’s a surplus of smartwatches and other smart devices from a variety of brands. They all have features that used to be considered futuristic, like vital sign monitoring, voice assistants, temperature and humidity detection, and even payment capabilities. Because of these features, wearables are also useful in a variety of industries, like healthcare, agriculture and even sports.
This type of tech isn’t new at all. However, the wearables of old weren’t always as sleek or as feature-packed as the Fitbits, Galaxy Watches and Google Glasses of today.
Here’s a brief look at the evolution of wearable technology.
13th Century — Eyeglasses: The Original Wearables
Now and then a tech company tries to pull a James Bond and create their own take on smart eyeglasses — to mixed reviews. Unlike its futuristic counterpart, however, the first pair of spectacles was a hit simply because they did their job quite well.
Magnifying glasses were said to have been used by monks in Ancient Rome to read text. These were said to be glass globes of water. By the 13th century, reading stones were introduced, which were just pieces of solid glass held by frames made of wood. The eyeglasses were invented during this period as well, but the original creator remains unknown. So far, historians have credited Alessandro Della Spina as the person who first popularized eyeglasses, as he shared the method of crafting spectacles to the public, which the unknown, original inventor wanted to keep secret.
16th Century: The First Watch
Mechanical clocks have been around since the start of the 14th century. However, their miniature versions weren’t created until a century later. After all, creating small, complicated, and precise machines were difficult with the tools they had back then.
The first watch was known as the “Nuremberg Egg,” created by German clockmaker Peter Henlein. He created it by making smaller versions of the torsion pendulum and coil springs found in the traditional clocks back then. Instead of weights that swung from left to right, he powered his creation with a spring that would wind up and release. His invention became popular, and he became known to historians as the father of the pocket watch.
Henlein’s wind-up mechanism was instrumental in the creation of modern watches. Modern mechanical watches of today use a technique similar to it, using either the crown or an internal weight to wind up and activate the mechanism.
17th Century — The First Wearable Computer: The Abacus Ring
If there’s a smart ring currently being developed by a hotshot tech startup right now, they’ve sorely been beaten by traders from the Qing Dynasty era. The average abacus ring had a 0.47-inch long, and 0.28-inch wide counting tool. It featured beads that were too small to be moved by the finger. Instead, traders used small tools like pins to move the beads around to make quick calculations. Although it’s not as powerful as the modern calculator, it definitely looks a hundred times cooler.
20th Century — The First GoPro was for Pigeons
Mainstream cameras weren’t really considered wearable until the GoPro and other portable action cameras were made popular. However, these were far from the first ones. In 1907, inventor and photography pioneer Julius Neubronner created the first wearable camera. He attached these to pigeons using aluminum harnesses. The cameras captured images in set intervals. These were used by the German army to take aerial pictures of enemy camps. They were essentially living, breathing drones.
The ’70s — An Update to the Wearable Calculator
Casio watches with calculators are still popular timepieces today. They were preceded by the very first wristwatch calculator created by Pulsar in the middle of the 70s. It released a limited edition gold version of its product, which sold for almost $4,000 apiece. A more affordable, but still expensive stainless steel version retailed for $550. It was promoted as a luxury timepiece for the “man who had everything until now.”
The ’80s — Portable Music Player: The Walkman
Sony popularized listening to music on the go when it introduced its Walkman. It was a portable cassette tape player that people could slide in their pocket or clip to their belt. It was so popular that the company continued to improve the Walkman’s capabilities, especially when Apple came out with their iPod 20 years after the original Walkman was released. Now, digital versions of the Walkman are still available to buy from Sony’s stores.
The 2000s — Bluetooth Headsets and Smart Watches
The 2000s saw the introduction of Bluetooth technology, making wireless wearable tech more viable. Bluetooth headsets were popularized by Nokia in 2002. In 2008, the Fitbit wristband was introduced. It functioned as a fitness tracker that allowed users to monitor their vital signs, the steps they’ve traveled, and more. Companies continue to innovate with these wearable devices, creating ones that are more energy-efficient and have more high-quality features.
Wearable technology has existed way before the Apple Watches of today. And while they lacked the high-tech features of today, they were still instrumental in the inspiration and creation of today’s devices. The next time you ask Siri to make a calculation for you, don’t forget to silently thank the German and Chinese inventors of the 16th and 17th centuries for their genius inventions.