While doing some of my doctoral research I found it difficult to walk (or run) around after people and take notes, or keep eye contact with them at the same time. Also, I discovered how slow writing with a pen actually is when you have a complex observation or thought. Thus, it occurred to me to use a wearable computer, which would enable touch typing. However, head-mounted displays and twiddlers each have their issues, so I thought about a solution using more conventional hardware and a wireless connection.
At the time I was playing with an older bluetooth enabled PDA and a FrogPad one-handed keyboard. However the bluetooth drivers didn't work and I had trouble mounting the PDA to my arm. And that's where the experiment ended. However, now that I've submitted the thesis I have more time to play with it - and I think I have a working solution now. The following sections show a system which enables mobile data logging for field work, which is particularly suitable for situations with mobile participants.
Here is the "covert" operating mode. The right sleeve doesn't have to be rolled up like I have it in the photo. The band can fit over a sleeve.
Here's the equipment being used for data entry. A frogpad
bluetooth keyboard is attached to a pocket on the hip. The I-mate K-JAM PDA is attached via a makeshift armband on the left arm.
Here's how you could touch-type, walk, and quickly review your writing while walking (use your imagination for the walking part).
Here's a closeup of the equipment.
Typing on the FrogPad. It is a chord keyboard. I haven't learned to touch-type on it yet, but theoretically you can get around 40wpm on it. This placement and angle isn't ideal, but isn't too bad either.
Here's the wearer's view of what is being typed.
The screen can be easily turned back into the body for privacy. The PDA and keyboard are paired wirelessly (don't try this with an older PDA). It's not necessary to view what you're typing most of the time. This is only to check for misspellings, etc. It's currently using a standard installation of pocket MS Word and a screen rotation utility. There's no reason you couldn't use pocket Excel and set up macros to automatically time-stamp every entry you put into a cell - perfect for data logging.
The armband is a piece of stretchy foam/fabric commonly found in sports/health stores pre-packaged as an arm or muscle brace. I got this used, but you can buy them for 10-$20. Sometimes they already have velcro bits you can remove and reapply as needed with a seam ripper and sewing kit.
Here's my makeshift addition of metal clips to the back of the keyboard with velcro strips.
It seems to work reasonably well and is removable. I might just glue them to the back eventually. It's possible to clip to a pocket (if the pocket is at the right angle) or to a combination of belt and pocket.
I've used some pretty heavy-duty contact cement to fasten some velcro directly onto the battery compartment of the PDA. However the battery compartment only has a flimsy plastic catch on the inside, so I may look into other options eventually. Having velcro on the PDA itself allows for repositioning of the angle of the screen on the arm.
So that's it. A wearable typing system using standard technology. A head-mounted display could also work, however, it's difficult to avoid attracting attention while taking notes anyhow. As most wearable users can tell you, they attract A LOT of attention. This can change observed behavior drastically and distract the observer. This system does look a little geeky, but most other people around will probably figure out what it is rapidly and they won't think they're under video surveillance.
If you try something like this yourself please post comments about it. Thanks!
Related papers:Lumsden, J. and Gammell, A., Mobile Note Taking: Investigating the Efficacy of Mobile Text Entry, 6th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, September 13-16, 2004 (2004) p. 156-167.