The Evolution of Dick Tracy’s Wristwatch

Sixty-five years ago (January 13, 1946),  Chester Gould introduced in Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio, having drawn inspiration from a visit to inventor Al Gross. It became one of the strip’s most immediately recognizable icons, and was eventually upgraded to a 2-Way Wrist TV in 1964.

Al Gross invented and patented many important communications devices, including the first walkie-talkie, CB radio, the telephone pager,  and the cordless telephone. Despite the successes of these inventions, his patents expired too early for him to make any amount of money from them. When asked about not making money from his inventions, he answered: “I was born thirty-five years too soon. If I still had the patents on my inventions, Bill Gates would have to stand aside for me.”

More like sixty-five years too soon…. It’s just that the emphasis now is on display innovation, not wireless communications. Later this year, researchers at Hewlett-Packard expect to deliver to the U.S. Army a working prototype of what they’re calling a “Dick Tracy wristwatch” — a lightweight, wearable device that soldiers in the field can use to view digital maps and other data on a flexible plastic screen that won’t shatter or crack like glass.

Though it will be spartan by design, reports Brandon Bailey of, researchers say HP’s prototype could be one of the first in a new wave of products incorporating flexible electronic displays. Freed from the constraints of a rigid glass screen, designers could one day build flexible plastic displays into clothing, wall coverings and perhaps even e-readers or tablets that can roll up like a newspaper.



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