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Soft Robots, Wearables and The Future of Mobility

Wearable Computing

Not long ago mobility meant ditching the desktop for a laptop computer. Today, wearables and augmented reality give new meaning to mobility but that's just the beginning. So if wearables are on the cutting edge of mobility today, what then about tomorrow?

Thankfully, the days of lugging around a 6lb mobile workstation were displaced by the ultra portables which promised all the power to run productivity apps in a sleek and lightweight package. While those were a natural evolution of the PC, we saw a new breed of devices, that were born mobile, become an integral part of our lives. Smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous today.

The mobile devices of today are now being complemented by wearables. Nike's FuelBand and the Fitbit got the trend started, tracking fitness and health information and were quickly followed by the likes of Samsung and Pebble offering an array of smart watches, while Google launched the Glass program which combines wearable tech with augmented reality.

Love or hate them, wearables are here to stay and they have definitely, once again, redefined mobility. This is evidenced by Google's press release on Tuesday, announcing Android Wear - a new project that aims to extend Android to wearable devices. From the press release it follows that Google will be focusing on the smart watches and fitness tracking products initially but their intentions go beyond that niche. The project aims to open up the Google Now service and several other key technologies to make it easier for wearable devices to interact with other Android devices, and vice-versa.

Following the trend, it only makes sense that we look at robotics to redefine the meaning of mobility in the near future. Continued research in robotics promises to bring us more and more intelligent autonomous devices. Today the robots are big and bulky and we don't look at them as the digital companions we have come to expect from our mobile devices. The Roomba is really good at dusting the floors but in many ways it resembles the Blackberries that were only good for sending email. Google's self driving car and Amazon's warehouse robots are no doubt smart devices but not smart in the sense that we have come to expect from our smart phones or tablets.

Recent research in the area of soft robotics promises to make robots safer to interact with and allow them to more naturally integrate in our environment. Andrew Marchese, under the guidance of Dr. Daniela Rus, at MIT, have developed a soft robotic fish capable of impressive autonomy and maneuvers.

As the robotics technology becomes more mature these devices will start to show up in our lives. And once APIs and software development kits become available for third party professionals and enthusiasts to start developing for these new platforms, we will witness the next transformation of the meaning of mobility.

What do you think? Is your organization looking at wearables as the next generation platform for mobility? How about robotics?

is the founder of Donaq, a software development consulting company with a focus on mobility. You can find Mike on Twitter and on LinkedIn.