Pi-powered jacket wraps you in a personal cloud

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A team at UAB has developed a wearable cloud computing system embedded in a jacket(Credit: Adobe Stock)

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Cloud computing can be a nebulous and worrying concept for some people, with their data flying off into a server somewhere in the world. Now computer engineers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) have developed a prototype that aims to keep the cloud local by wrapping it around the user in the form of a microcomputer-embedded jacket.

Developed by Ragib Hasan and Rasib Khan at UAB, the prototype has 10 Raspberry Pis for its brain, along with three power banks and a remote touchscreen input. The idea, according to its creators, is to better connect all of a user's devices, and outsource the computing power and storage to the cloud jacket, meaning individual devices can be "dumber" and therefore less expensive.

"Currently if you want to have a smart watch, smartphone, an exercise tracker and smart glasses, you have to buy individual expensive devices that aren't working together," Hasan said. "Why not have a computational platform with you that can support many forms of mobile and wearable devices? Then all of these capabilities can become really inexpensive."

The Raspberry Pi-flavored cloud gives the jacket about 10 GB of RAM and a total of 320 GB of storage space, making it much more powerful than any smartphone around today. With that much power under the (possibly literal) hood, the cloud jacket would enable phones, watches, tablets and other smart devices to simply act as input controllers, connected to the jacket via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

When the wearer opens or uses an app, the cloud jacket does the heavy lifting, then streams the data back to the device. And with their own private, wearable network, most or all of their personal data stays on their person.

"Once you have turned everything else into a 'dumb device,' the wearable cloud becomes the smart one," says Hasan. "The application paradigm becomes much more simple and brings everything together. Instead of individual solutions, now you have everything as a composite solution."

It's not just limited to a jacket, either. The personal portable cloud concept could take as many forms as an actual cloud, embedded into other items of clothing, briefcases, purses, backpacks, or anything else people carry around everyday.

Other applications are being explored, too. Hospital patients could wear a comfortable jacket that syncs to an array of monitors, rather than being physically wired in. Personal clouds could even sync up to form a network for first responders or soldiers to communicate and share data.

"With seven to 10 people wearing such a cloud together, they create what we call a hyper-cloud, a much more powerful engine," says Hasan. "The jacket can also act as a micro or picocell tower. All of its capabilities can be shared on a private network with other devices via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. If a first responder is out in the field and doesn't have complete information to act on a mission, but someone else does, it can be shared and updated through the cloud in real time."

The research paper was published through the SECRET Lab, at UAB's Computer and Information Sciences department and Hasan and Khan presented their concept and a prototype wearable cloud jacket at the 40th Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society International Conference on Computers, Software & Applications (IEEE COMPSAC) in June.

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