Smell The Coffee - It's The Internet Of Senses
Are you missing the aroma of the coffee beans in the dispenser at your office; the soft touch of the fingers of your loved one; the fragrance of the flowers in your friend's garden in a distant land; or maybe even the smell of the sea in a beachside holiday resort? The pandemic has distanced us, and yet, it is a tipping point of an emerging future when the physical and the digital world converge in the most realistic way imaginable it is way beyond augmented or virtual reality, it's extended reality (XR).
From Fantasy To Fact
What sounds like science fiction is already work-in-progress. Researchers in our labs are developing `The Internet of Senses (IOS)' that would let us to digitally communicate touch, taste, smell, and the feeling of heat or cold. Holographic communication will allow us to be present in meetings from anywhere with our photo-realistic avatars that behave as if we are actually in the room. Even in early 2020, this seemed a far-fetched futuristic fantasy for many. But today, we find social media platforms talking about creating a parallel universe as a 'set of virtual spaces' where you can create and explore with other people who aren't in the same physical space as you.
The Dematerialized Office
A couple of years ago, our engineers and futurists had envisioned the `dematerialized office', a fully immersive environment that rather than just letting us pull-up a virtual computer screen in thin air, provides all-inclusive experience covering coffee breaks, social experiences, and even a digital commute. So far, we have been only using our visual and auditory senses. Now, we have started to use our sense of touch as well, using haptic gloves. Sensory experiences delivered over the networks are the essence of the Internet of Senses and can be demonstrated through use cases such as five senses merged reality, immersive communication, remote operation of machinery, all senses online shopping, and sustainable vacations in virtual reality.
The Emerging Future Would Be More Interconnected And Data-Driven Than Ever, Requiring A Proactive Digital Convergence Strategy
Beginning With A Sense Of Touch
Haptic feedback, which is needed in use cases like remote control of machinery, merged reality gaming, and augment-ed shopping, would be the first step towards IoS. By making digital experiences and interaction 'as good as being physically there', IoS has the potential to greatly reduce the need for traveling or even offices. Digital sensory experiences can also de-materialize products and enhance services so that fewer re-sources and energy are used in consumption.
From specialist oncology to simple ailment diagnosis, a large percentage of the world's population cannot reach or afford the healthcare professionals that they need to treat them. Using cutting-edge 5G network infrastructure in combination with the world's most advanced surgical robotics, a team at King's College, London, has created the ability to allow the re-mote transfer of haptic, tactile, audio, and visual technologies. This enables a surgeon or doctor to perform a diagnosis or even surgery on a patient anywhere in the world.
The Foundation Of Internet Of Senses
The emerging future would be more interconnected and data-driven than ever, requiring a proactive digital convergence strategy. A digitalized and programmable world, for example, will deliver full representations of the physical world. This may lead to billions of embedded sensors and actuators represented in digital, interactive 4D maps of whole cities that are precise in position and time, and can be simultaneously accessed and modified by large numbers of humans and intelligent machines for detailed planning of activities.
Such cyber-physical service platforms can issue commands to steerable systems like public transport, waste handling, or water and heating management systems. The advent of precision healthcare, enabled by miniature nodes measuring body functions and capabilities to issue medications and physical actions, will be supported by a digital representation that can be continuously analyzed.
The lead-up to IOS has begun, with many companies pushing the limits of digital collaboration. Companies have built advanced digital platforms for collaboration and real-time photo realistic simulation, unifying globally dispersed teams in a single, interactive environment where they can iterate more efficiently and maximize creative output. Geographically distributed design and engineering teams are able to synchronize with each other, third-party contractors, and suppliers.
One of the most important building blocks of IOS will be Brain-Computer-Interface (BCI). BCIs are more sensitive that XR to physical perceptual requirements arising out of human senses, cognition, and physiology. The underlying network technology will have to become far more robust than it is today to deliver on this promise. Holograms, for instance, will use volumetric video instead of today's two-dimensional model. That means the available data rate for sending real 3D images over the internet must be much higher, from 5G's 20 Gbps to 1 Tbps. This is where 6G comes into play. Watch this space.