Academic journal article Human Factors

A Tool to Assess the Comfort of Wearable Computers

Academic journal article Human Factors

A Tool to Assess the Comfort of Wearable Computers

Article excerpt


The term wearable has been defined by Gemperle, Kasabach, Stivoric, Bauer, and Martin (1998) as implying the use of the human body as a support for some product. Extending this definition, Gemperle et al. coined the term dynamic wearability, which includes the notion of the device being wearable while the body is in motion. After generating 13 design guidelines for wearable computers, Gemperle et al. tested their design of wearable forms by asking participants to carry out activities and rate their level of comfort. By doing so, they suggested that an assessment of wearable computers should include an element of comfort analysis.

Comfort has been assessed in ergonomics in numerous areas linked with workplace design, including chair comfort (Shackel, Chidsy, & Shipley, 1969), thermal comfort (Nicol, Humphreys, Sykes, & Roaf, 1995), and visual comfort (Saito, Taptagaporn, Sotoyama, & Suzuki, 1993).

Musculoskeletal discomfort has been ad dressed by a number of studies. Using a range of techniques, including the Borg CR-10 scale, visual analogue scales, and body maps, studies have related neck and arm posture to discomfort (Chaffin, 1973; Harms-Ringdahl & Ekholm, 1986; Wikel, Chaffin, & Langolf, 1989). Levels of postural discomfort have often been related to workplace design and to interaction with technologies such as desktop and laptop computers (Hunting, Laubli, & Grandjean, 1981; Sauter, Schleifer, & Knutson, 1991; Sommerich, Starr, Smith, & Shivers, 2002).

Adding load to the body has been addressed with respect to levels of discomfort induced by loading specific joint structures (Harms-Ringdahl et al., 1986), general load carriage using items such as backpacks (Knapik, Harman, & Reynolds, 1996), and using hand tools (Putz-Anderson & Galinsky, 1993: Wiker et al., 1989).

Specific to wearing items, comfort assessment has been carried out for personal protective equipment such as respirators, shoes, gloves, glasses, coveralls, and knee and elbow pads (Akbar-Khanzadeh, Bisesi, & Rivas, 1995). For wearable computer equipment, comfort assessment has been carried out for devices incorporated into helmets (Robinette, 1993; Robinette & Whitestone, 1994; Whitestone, 1993) and for arm-worn devices (Stein, Ferrero, Hetfield, Quinn, & Krichever, 1998). Indeed, Knight (2002) measured levels of pain and discomfort attributable to variations of head and arm posture and added load using the Borg CR-10 for areas of the neck, shoulder, upper arm, and forearm, with specific reference to the use of wearable computers.

A limitation of these studies is that they often scored comfort along one scale, implying that comfort is a one-dimensional construct. When wearing something, one's level of comfort can be affected by, a number of things, such as the device's size and weight, how it affects movement, and pain, whether direct (e.g., friction, knocking, heat) or indirect (e.g., muscle fatigue). In addition to physical factors, comfort may be affected by psychological responses such as embarrassment. Therefore, simply knowing that when wearing the device the wearer has a certain level of discomfort does not help in determining what aspect of the device makes the wearer feel uncomfortable. Consequently, it is proposed that comfort should be measured across a number of dimensions. The aim of this study was to determine the factors that affect the comfort of wearable devices and then to produce a tool to measure them. The rest of this paper is therefore split into two main sections. The first explains the process taken to develop a set of comfort rating scales. The second section presents two studies undertaken to test these scales.


Descriptors of Wearable Comfort

To develop an understanding of what constructs are inherent in wearable computer comfort, we generated a list of descriptor terms that could be applied to wearable computers. …

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