Developing the Internet of Senses | IT PRO
Although 5G is still very new to the majority of us, many technologists and researchers have already moved their focus onto the next generation of wireless technology; 6G.
Each generation gave us something new – 3G focused on voice and text while 4G centred around the growing consumption of data. The Internet of Things (IoT) was at the heart of 5G’s focus, while the goal of 6G is to deliver multisensory experiences that will be almost inseparable from reality. This has been coined the Internet of Senses.
A form of teleportation
Professor Rahim Tafazolli, regius professor at the University of Surrey and director of the 6th Generation Innovation Centre, talks about the Internet of Senses as a form of teleportation.
“Mobile systems transmit. First it was voice, then images, 2D video and now 3D video in the form of VR. We’re transmitting and receiving two of our senses currently, seeing and hearing. So now we need to find a way to transmit the other three senses. If you put this together with 3D video, we’re effectively creating a kind of teleportation.”
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The Internet of Senses will rely on technologies including artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and automation to interact with our senses of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch, and experts believe this will enable a myriad of new applications.
There’s still a long way to go for the Internet of Senses to become reality, and many challenges to overcome. Transmitting and receiving all our senses will require extensive bandwidth and high accuracy synchronisation between the different data flows. Low latency levels of approximately 10ms will also be needed in order for natural interactions, such as shaking hands, to be able to happen in real time.
“Even a three second lag could be dangerous,” points out futurist Shivvy Jervis. Founder of FutureScape 248, Jervis has been following research into ‘the tactile web’ for the last three years. “Think about an engineer in the middle of fixing a vital piece of machinery or a surgeon conducting remote surgery. The connectivity is the most vital part of developing the Internet of Senses.”
“We need much better bandwidth and capacity than 5G can currently provide, we need 3D audio and we also need to develop a way to transmit the three other senses,” continues Tafazolli. “As a research institute, we believe that knowing what the problem is is half the solution, and so we’re working with our industrial partners to develop technologies that will enable all of this.
“We’re focusing on touch first. We need sensors, perhaps a type of electronic skin that can translate the transmission into a sensation we can receive. Then we’ll move onto the other two senses of taste and smell.”
There have also been some more ‘out there’ ideas floated, such as using implants to turn the brain into an interface in its own right, enabling people to control devices using only their thoughts. These are very much blue-sky concepts right now, with technology firms focusing on advanced AR and VR supplemented with additional sensory inputs. However, Richardson points out that brain implants, in conjunction with AI mind mapping, monitoring and ultimately inference with the brain/bodily function interface, are definitely on the agenda of many forward-looking companies and research institutes.
But implants are a tall ask for consumers, notes Jervis, and there’s a lot of ethical issues to consider. “The ability to connect one’s brain is a little worrying – I study the ethical oversight of new technology very closely and this is a minefield. However, more attainable applications are not as far fetched and often have a tech for good element underpinning them,” she concludes.
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