Touch — one of the 5 senses that humans are blessed to possess. And it’s the most important, in my opinion. Touch gives us a deeper understanding of the beings/things we are feeling, which cannot be fully experienced by sight, smell, hearing or taste.
As children, we learn of the world through our touch. I see my 8-month-old using touch to guide her experiences. The toys that have more texture get a little more play time. The soft blanket gets extra snuggles of comfort while the water-dipped cold towel to wipe her chin after dinner is generally brushed away rudely. Feedback from touch is what guides us with our actions.
Today, virtually every facet of our daily lives is influenced by technology. Innovative technologies offer more immersive experiences like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) (and both are growing at a phenomenal rate). The Cisco Visual Networking Index forecasts that globally, AR/VR traffic will increase 12-fold between 2017 and 2022 (65.3% CAGR). To put this in perspective, 1.3% of all entertainment traffic (Internet video and gaming) in 2022, will be from augmented and virtual reality up from 0.2% in 2017.
While VR immerses users in a simulated environment, AR is an overlay of technology on the real world. Mixed Reality, a more popular form of AR, has a much higher degree of complexity and is much more realistic. It combines the use of several types of technologies including sensors, advanced optics, et al. bundled into a single device that provides the capability to overlay augmented holographic digital content into your real-time space. This “digital mash-up” creates realistic scenarios stimulating all but the sense of touch. With the advancement of Haptic technology, the touch barrier can now be scaled (to a degree).
There is real-time feedback from the simulated immersive environment that can prompt a human response. If you are in a gaming environment, the touch of the digital rocks that you may be climbing to get to your goal or the application of pressure from your feet to get your virtual horse to canter will enhance the simulated experience. But there are multiple real-life applications as well. A doctor conducting surgery miles away from the patient will get feedback from this haptic technology as they mend a muscle, bone or ligament and can alter their plan almost instantly as the medical situation changes for the patient.
This entire experience of haptic feedback in an immersive environment depends on the quality of connectivity (or network performance), which can provide “real-time feedback” (defined as less than 1 millisecond to be precise). The key enablers are ultra-low latency and high reliability secure networks or the “Tactile Internet” and 5th Generation Mobile Networks (5G). The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) defines the Tactile Internet as an internet network that combines ultra-low latency with extremely high availability, reliability and security and the Tactile Internet represents a “revolutionary level of development for society, economics and culture”. 5G networks are “expected to deliver more speed and capacity to support massive machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and to provide low-latency, high-reliability service for time-critical applications” according to ITU.
As 5G networks begin to be deployed globally and the “Tactile/Haptic Internet” begins to become a reality, most of the advanced M2M or IoT applications will begin to be realized with the amalgamation of sensors and haptic feedback. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index forecast, M2M modules will be 51% of total devices and connections by 2022 (so the digital foundation is taking shape).
According to Gerhard Fettweis, Creator of the Tactile Internet-“For the tactile Internet, we’ll need more powerful devices and a much faster wireless network, 100 times faster than the current 4G. The 5G latency rate is expected to be less than 1 millisecond; 4G networks have a latency of 25 milliseconds. Once there’s a ubiquitous infrastructure with which we can control real and virtual objects, planet Earth will be changed big-time. 5G will deliver more realistic, immersive, and interactive VR experiences than do today’s systems. Headsets will be mobile, and not plugged into computers. Students will be able to virtually wander the streets of, say, ancient Rome, touching its famous landmarks.”
The deployment of 5G and the dawn of the tactile/haptic internet will be the bridge to possible Virtual and Augmented reality applications that have the potential to enhance the way we “Live, Work, Play and Learn.”
Published with permission from blogs.cisco.com.