Nomadic Radio: Wearable Audio Computing

Nitin Sawhney and Chris Schmandt

Speech Interface Group
MIT Media Laboratory


Nomadic Radio provides an audio-only wearable interface to unify remote information services such as email, voice mail, hourly news broadcasts, and personal calendar events. These messages are automatically downloaded to a wearable device throughout the day and users can browse them using speech recognition and tactile input. To provide an unobtrusive interface for nomadic users, the audio/text information is presented using a combination of ambient and auditory cues, synthetic speech and spatialized audio.

A notification model developed in Nomadic Radio dynamically selects the relevant presentation level for incoming messages based on message priority, user activity and the level of conversation in the environment. Temporal actions of the user such as activating or ignoring messages while listening, reinforce or decay the presentation level over time and change the underlying notification model. Scaleable notification allows incoming messages to be dynamically presented as subtle ambient sounds, distinct VoiceCues, spoken summaries or spatialized audio streams foregrounded for the listener.

This project addressed techniques for peripheral awareness, spatial listening and contextual notification to manage the user's focus of attention on a wearable audio computing platform.

Note: Nomadic Radio was a research project developed from Jan 1997 to May 1999.
It is not currently active and there are no plans for any commercial products
based on this work. For more information please refer to the papers listed below.

[ CHI'99 Conference Paper: 8 pages ] -- [ ToCHI'2000 Journal Paper: 24 pages ]

My thoughts on Nomadic Computing Lifestyles

Bruce Sterling's Manifesto for the next Millennium


(Powerpoint Talk Slides from CHI'99)


(outdated descriptions - please refer to papers below)

Why Wearable Audio Computing?

What is Nomadic Radio?

Design of the Soundbeam and the Radio Vest

Architecture of Nomadic Radio

Simultaneous and Spatial Listening

Awareness and Communication

Adaptive Notification

The Future of Wearable Audio Computing?


Nomadic Radio in a BBC documentary + Kitchen Demo - 42.3 MB MPEG Video

Auditory Cues in Nomadic Radio - wav -- au (283K)


Computer-wear wires the catwalks - CNN streaming video, October 7, 1999

You Wear it Well - Fox News report on Internet World Fashion Show in NY, October 11, 1999

Wearables Conference Explores Fringes of Fashion, Technology - The MIT Tech, Oct. 21, 1997

These Computers Were Made For Wearing - The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 17, 1997


CHI '99 Talk: ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Pittsburgh, May 19, 1999.

Wearables Tokyo Symposium: Niccograph Conference, Makuhari, Japan, Nov 23-27, 1998.

ISWC '98 Talk: International Symposium on Wearable Computing, Pittsburgh, PA. October 20, 1998.

Ericsson Talk: Ericsson Eurolabs Deutschland, Aachen, Germany. August 24th, 1998.

ICAD '97 Talk: International Conference on Auditory Display, Xerox PARC, Nov. 5, 1997.

News in the Future: NIF meeting, MIT Media Lab, May 21, 1997. Short presentation talk.


ToCHI Journal Paper
Nitin Sawhney and Chris Schmandt. Nomadic Radio: Speech & Audio Interaction for Contextual Messaging in Nomadic Environments. To appear in the special issue of ACM Transactions on Computer Human Interaction (ToCHI) on the topic of Human Computer Interaction and Mobile Systems. (June'2000) Abstract -- PDF

ACM CHI '99 Paper
Nitin Sawhney and Chris Schmandt. Nomadic Radio: Scaleable and Contextual Notification for Wearable Audio Messaging. ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Pittsburgh, May 15-20, 1999. -- PDF

PUI '98 Workshop Paper
Brian Clarkson, Nitin Sawhney and Alex Pentland. Auditory Context Awareness in Wearable Computing, Workshop on Perceptual User Interfaces, San Francisco, Nov. 5-6, 1998. [ pdf ]

ISWC '98 Paper
Nitin Sawhney and Chris Schmandt. Speaking and Listening on the Run: Design for Wearable Audio Computing. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Wearable Computing, 19-20 October 1998, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. PDF

M.S. Thesis
Nitin Sawhney. Contextual Awareness, Messaging and Communication in Nomadic Audio Environments. Submitted to the Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT Media Lab, May 19, 1998. (122 pages) -- Abstract -- Acrobat PDF (1.7 MB)

ICAD '97 Paper
Nitin Sawhney and Chris Schmandt. Design of Spatialized Audio in Nomadic Environments. Proceedings of the International Conference on Auditory Display, November 2-5, 1997, Palo Alto, CA. PDF

ISWC '97 Poster
Nitin Sawhney and Chris Schmandt. Nomadic Radio: A Spatialized Audio Environment for Wearable Computing. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Wearable Computing, October 13-14, 1997, Cambridge, MA. PDF

Technical Reports

Short TechNote
Nitin Sawhney and Chris Schmandt. Message Swatch: Coherent Visual and Auditory Displays. Compressed Postscript (82K)

Message Swatch
Nitin Sawhney. Message Swatch: Temporal Representation for Information Augmentation. Technical Report for Intelligence Augmentation (MAS 963), Pattie Maes, MIT Media Lab, November, 1997. Compressed Postscript (994K)

Environmental Sound Classification
Nitin Sawhney. Situational Awareness from Environmental Sounds. Technical Report for Modeling Adaptive Behavior (MAS 738), Pattie Maes, MIT Media Lab, June 13, 1997. Compressed Postscript (91K)

Wearable Audio Computing
Deb Roy, Nitin Sawhney, Chris Schmandt, Alex Pentland. Wearable Audio Computing: A Survey of Interaction Techniques. Perceptual Computing Technical Report #434, MIT Media Lab, April 1997. Compressed Postscript (250K)

Related Links

Smart Clothes at MIT Media Lab: Projects in Wearable Computing

SpeechWear: Mobile Speech System

Voice Notes: Speech Interface for Hand-Held Voice Notetaker

Audio Notebook: Paper-based Augmented Audio

Dynomite: Dynamically Organized Ink & Audio Notebook

NewsComm: Hand-held Interface for Interactive Access to Structured Audio

Audio Highway: Portable Internet Audio Device

Touch Stone: Design for Wearable Communication

DIE AUDIO GRUPPE: Performances with Electro-acoustic Clothes

Nitin Sawhney

Graduate Research Assistant
Speech Interface Group
MIT Media Lab
E15-352, 20 Ames St,
Cambridge, MA 02139
phone: 617.258.5956
fax: 617.258.6264