The Future of Our Five Senses

May 10th, 2013 | Articles, Industry News, Press Releases and Industry News | No Comments »

Five Senses

Digital technology is ubiquitous – it’s in our homes, our offices, and everywhere we go – but to some that just isn’t enough. Mobile phones & tablets broaden our social experience, but the feeling that we are dealing with pixels on a static, plastic slab is ultimately there. We may have adjusted but our five senses definitely aren’t fooled. There is still a defined line where we end & technology begins. Now, as augmented reality tech like Google Glass transitions from the drawing board to production, the line is being blurred.

Beyond sight, the digital experience has always been a bit bland but scientists, programmers, and artists are all pioneering new ways to heighten the way we see, hear, feel, smell, and even experience taste with augmented reality (AR) technology.

Sight & Sound:

In the future, Google Glass might overhaul our visual & auditory experience but for now, its greatest potential lies in the way we share that experience with others. As third party developers make headway on groundbreaking apps, that can change.

For example, when you are touring an art museum and you look at a French impressionist painting or Grecian urn, you may be greeted with pop up or audio information about the work of art. When out on the street, you may see a tag hovering over another Google Glass user looking to connect on a business opportunity. Ultimately, the opportunities are endless and will only expand as innovators take the plunge into further experimentation.

A recent AR experiment run by students at the Royal College of Art in London is heightening sight & sound awareness in extraordinary ways. Known simply as Eidos, this project has produced two major prototypes.

On the visual side, the team is exploring our perception of motion with a pair of gigantic, bone white shutter shades. An embedded web cam captures the wearer’s point-of-view and transmits a real-time video into a computer program. Instantaneously, that video is transmitted back with an after-effect that simulates long exposure photography and gives each moving object the impression of a conga line of phantom selves trailing in its wake.

On the auditory side, the team is exploring ways we can deal with environmental white noise. Using a large, polygonal mask that runs from the jaw line up to the nose & ears, wearers can pluck speech & other sounds from muddied background noise. Directional microphones collect the desired sounds and a combination of speakers and bone conduction technology (which sends sound to the inner ear through vibrations) amplify and sharpen that audio to incredible levels.

Though both are a bit bulky, they have an aesthetic appeal that can catch fire in hip circles. It simply takes the experimentation and collaboration of tech savvy professionals to bring these projects to the consumer landscape. A broad range of applications can be generated, from the practical to the psychedelic, and can change the way people experience the world. New tech disciplines can emerge and open up job opportunities for those eager to incorporate other studies (i.e. art & science) into their skills.


To keep up with the advances in hands-free AR technology, tech inventors are reconceiving the entire touch screen experience. Up to this point, touch screen technology has been limited to planar 2D displays in an otherwise 3D tactile world. Our instinct to grab and move items is limited by this eerily flat surface. Now, members of MIT’s Media Lab are playing with the very fabric of the mobile touch screen experience.

Their most recent output is an interactive, elastic surface that allows users to satisfy their sense of touch. The interactive membrane allows users to pinch, pull, push, & mold the screen to their will. Depth cameras record the user’s movements while linear actuators move back & forward to alter the amount of slack provided to the touch screen material.

Though on the experimental side, this technology can alter the medium that software developers use every day. Old limitations can be discarded and a whole new paradigm can arise.

Taste & Smell:

Our senses of smell & taste, which are so closely related, continue to elude replication. These senses are the most subjective and are influenced by a large number of unforeseen, uncontrollable factors. Yet there are still people who believe one day we can master this type of technology.

They gather as members of the Digital Olfaction Society and discuss breakthroughs that may one day grow into full-fledged applications.

Technology ranges from the truly gimmicky (cellphone smell-o-grams) to the life-changing (digi-censors that can detect cancer) and everything in between. Most are still in the early stages of prototyping but they have incredible potential as technology & science evolve. For those ambitious pioneers, this might be the exploratory field that can help make their careers.

The Big Picture:

As augmented reality technology continues to expand, tech-savvy trendsetters can make their mark on the world of IT by increasing our environmental awareness of the sights, sounds, smells, flavors, and physical sensations around us. The only question is: do you want to be immersed in this revolution first hand or just watch from the sidelines?

by James Walsh

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