Apple hires 'Senior Prototype Engineer' for work on wearable computing

March 15, 2010 10:59 AM EDT

Richard DeVaul's Linkedin status changed last month from Founder & President at AWare Technologies to Senior Prototype Engineer at Apple, Inc.  This is a significant hire for Apple and one that shows the company is looking far ahead into the future of mobile computing.

DeVaul has a background in wearable technologies as you can see from his personal homepage, as well as a PhD. in Media Arts & Sciences from MIT.  At MIT, he worked on new human-computer interaction techniques for wearable, mobile, and portable applications.

His dissertation was on "The Memory Glasses", a heads-up display  focused on the problems associated with wearable memory support technology. This included hardware and software architectures, and low-attention human-computer interaction for wearable computing, including the use of subliminal visual cues for just-in-time memory support.

He summarizes this project:

The short version is that I can improve your performance on a memory recall task by a factor of about 63% without distracting you, in fact without you being aware that I'm doing anything at all. Even more interesting is that giving you wrong information subliminally doesn't seem to mess you up. 

DeVaul was a founding organizer and leader of the MIThril wearable computing project, which developed a distributed, clothing- integrated wearable computing research platform.

After MIT, he founded AWare Technologies. He describes his work there as:

We began in early 2004 as a contract research company providing customized high-performance personnel monitoring for the US Army, DARPA, and Olympic sport organizations. Since 2006 the company has refocused to deliver effective behavior-change solutions for increasing fitness. We also have one of the most popular health-and-fitness iPhone apps, StepTrakLite. (Rich's CV)

In 2005, he was granted a patent for Distributed multi-nodal voice/data communication:

The invention comprises systems and methods of creating and maintaining a communications network. It includes a wearable system, a deployable system, an array of physiological sensors, an array of environmental sensors, and the integration of these into a multi-nodal voice and data communication system. The primary communications network is composed of body-worn communications nodes comprising sensors, wearable audio/video communications gear, and wireless digital transceivers. The deployable system supports and extends the body-worn network by providing wider communications coverage, situational environmental monitoring, and navigational aid. The deployable system is composed of small, self-contained, robust network nodes. Each such node combines environmental sensors, a digital wireless "repeater," and a navigational beacon capability integrated in a hardened, robust package. Nodes are carried by team members and deployed when needed to extend the range of the communications or sensor network. 

Speaking of patents, Apple has been patenting fitness applications like crazy.  The most recent being Quickstart, a template system for workouts and 'Virtual Competitor', a way exercise against opponents like a game -- using competition to get healthy.  These are in the same area which DeVaul worked in at AWare.

Additionally, Apple has multiple patented wearable display technologies.

DeVaul will be working under Jonny Ive in a secret lab focused on wearable computing technology where only seven people besides Ive and CEO Steve Jobs know what he is doing.