I made my own wearable computer with a Raspberry Pi, and it was too easy
Ever since I read about the crazy wearable pioneers back in the ‘90s and early 2000s, I’ve wanted a wearable computer of my own. I had two major requirements, however: it had to be a computer, and I had to be able to wear it.
Smartphones, for the most part, have supplanted most people’s interest in or need for a wearable computer. They’re great, I highly endorse smartphones. But you can’t really “wear” them in any functional way.
And then there was Google Glass, which was super usable, and had a tiny bit of computer inside of it. But the interface it presented to the user was very un-computer-like. I appreciate what Google was trying to do, but I’d rather start with something hard to use but powerful, rather than easy to use but limited.
So now I’ve built my own, and it was really easy. Too easy, if you ask me.
First off I got a Vufine display. It’s a little head-mounted screen that can connect to any device with an HDMI output. It’s not nearly as nice as the Google Glass display, which hovers over your vision instead of occluding it, but it’s good enough. Also it’s affordable: you can get one for around $180, and the newer, better model is $200.
Then I got a Raspberry Pi Zero, a USB hub, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi dongles. Internet isn’t a hard requirement for a wearable computer, but because the main thing I’ll use this for is taking notes, I want to make sure those notes get backed up to the cloud. Bluetooth is for using a wireless keyboard.
Then the new Raspberry Pi Zero W came out a week after I bought all the parts. The Zero W has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi built in, and only costs $10, so now I don’t need those dongles and I don’t need the hub. Progress!
I also got a battery pack to power the Raspberry Pi and keep the Vufine display charged. I got a big battery, 13000mAh, so I can theoretically use my wearable for a whole working day.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
All I did was plug the Vufine’s HDMI cable into the Pi Zero. Then I plugged a USB mouse into the Pi. Then powered up the Pi by plugging it into the battery pack.
Software setup was just as simple. I booted the Pi to its default OS (an SD card with the OS installed came with my Pi), paired to my Bluetooth keyboard, and launched the terminal so I can use my favorite text editor: Vim. Now I can do everything I want with my keyboard, because everything I want to do is write. My plan is to get Dropbox on here to sync my notes automatically to the cloud, but haven’t done it yet.
If you don’t have Zero W, you’ll need to live the dongle life. It was a bit of a pain to install the drivers and correct software for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but it’s totally doable with enough patience. Here’s the best Bluetooth tutorial I found. Good luck!
What I want to do next is find a lightweight Linux distro that does everything I need, but will boot faster than the default. Then I want to make it so I can use the computer without even looking at the screen, while still being confident that all my notes are being saved and synced when I’m in Wi-Fi range.
Overall my setup costs way less than most wearable computing alternatives, while having all the power and flexibility of a Linux computer. Now I just have to make it useful. Which, of course, has always been the hard part about wearables.