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Paul Sohi: Wearables Revolution Begins with Flexible Electronics and Exoskeletons

Working with established companies and organization as well as startups, Paul Sohi has acquired a unique experience in the field of wearable technologies. As a Fusion 360 evangelist, a lot of his work goes into designing products that leverage the latest technological trends as well as making sure that concepts can become real products and their business be scaled up.

Sohi’s latest work focuses primarily on wearable technologies, intended as technologies that can enhance both the product’s customization and wearer’s abilities.  “We partner with companies on really ambitious projects, providing alternative technical solutions and knowledge as an active part of the design process,” Sohi says. “These range from an ongoing project with NASA’s Mars Mission medical team to developing sustainable and customizable surfboards to AI-prosthetics. When we work with startups we help make sure that theirs designs are something that can go from prototype to being mass-produced.”

Paul Sohi is a judge for the upcoming Reshape design contest, which revolves around new wearable technology concepts. The competition takes place alongside – and is co-organized by – the IN(3D)USTRY congress on 3D printing solutions. In a way 3D printing is going to provide new solution to make wearable technology products  more accessible and feasible but the path toward mass production is still very long.

I think what’s going to be really interesting about Reshape is that it will help us understand what wearable technology applications people are really interested,” Sohi explains. “We’re still largely figuring out what we want from it. Two years ago there was a lot of talk about IoT but we are only starting to see the first truly useful applications now: it’s not about just wirelessly controlling you lights or your fridge telling you when you are out of milk but actually providing deeper analytical information to make better products and offer better experiences. With wearables, we are still that early stage where it is an exciting concept and I’m really excited to see what it is going to evolve into. I’m personally hoping to see a lot of really cool medical applications.”

In fact, medical and prosthetic applications are likely going to play a major part in the early ages of wearable technology. Paul Sohi is working on a bionics project which integrates AI into a prosthetic arm in order to improve dexterity over time. “If you can treat a prosthetic as a wearable, even if it’s just a socket, you can start to learn how the body changes and how the amputated limb is changing in the socket,” Sohi explains. “That’s going to give us information on how to build better prosthetic devices for each person.” Although it may not seem intuitive, another fascinating application of wearable technology is in the production of exoskeletons finalized at replacing wheelchairs.

If we imagine a wheelchair as a wearable device instead of a mobility device this opens up a whole new range of possibilities,” Sohi continues. A startup called Disrupt Disability has been working on taking this concept to market. “[Disrupt Disability’s] is of the most interesting projects I’ve seen recently: we think tend to think of wheelchairs as a mobility devices but the reality is that for someone who needs a wheelchair, this is essentially an extension of their body.”

When it comes to consumer products, however, the scope of what we referre to as “wearables” is huge. Today it includes  everything from a Smart Watch to the failed Google Glass project or, more recently, the Snapchat Spectacles. These, however, are not truly wearable products as the integrate electronics into standard, rigid enclosures.  “Circuit boards are still very rigid and the human body is not,” says Sohi. “So what we really need is the ability to make flexible electronics. Some research has been conducted but a lot more work need to be done in order to find real solutions. Conferences and competitions such as In(3D)USTRY and Reshape can help share ideas on how to face these challenges.”

Some progress has been made in printable electronics but much remains to be done. Issue include the fact that integrated electronics mean products that are made of a single component and thus cannot be repaired. This may be a benefit for space applications, where repairs are virtually impossible, but is not ideal for consumer products undergoing stresses and intense use. Furthermore, while printable conductive inks exist they are generally rigid and while they may work on paper they crack when applied to soft fabrics such as those used in clothing.”

Some of the most interesting applications for wearable, smart technology have begun to appear in sport applications and devices,” Sohi concludes, “and it is amazing how useful they can be in terms of customizing and optimizing workouts, however it will still take a long time before these applications can truly be integrated into clothes and non-intrusive flexible devices. When that happens we will have a true explosion of wearable technology products.”

 

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