When Raj from CBS’s The Big Bang Theory was tasked by NASA to come up with a delivery system for a universal message in case one of NASA’s Discovery missions encounter aliens (The Communication Deterioration episode, aired April 16, 2015), he enlists his fellow scientists for help. After trading theories and arguing in a side debate on who is Alpha and who is Omega in the group, they come to the conclusion that they need to develop a device that can deliver a message through not only sight, but through other senses, or in scientific terms other “perceptual modalities.”
Their “aha” moment comes when they realize that aliens might communicate in a totally different way than humans — they might not have eyes or ears. Taking cue from the animal kingdom, the guys contemplate on the fact that animals communicate through scent, bees dance to talk to each other and whales have their songs. [Spoiler alert] While it can be questioned if their pin board haptic communication system does the job of welcoming the aliens, after all the aliens of the future want to eat Sheldon, haptics were used as part of the communication system to convey the message from Earth. In case, as Sheldon put it, “Who knows if they even have mouths.”
All comedy and science stuff aside, touch is the most powerful sense in the universe. It may be the universal language for all species of life, extraterrestrial, animal and humanoid. Just think about the iconic image of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. reaching out with his finger to touch his human friend Elliot. It is ingrained in our memory because it tugs at our heart strings and makes E.T. less alien.
At Immersion, we talk often about touch as a human sense and how its absence from our digital environments has forced us to be coy with the way that we connect with others through technology, such as 🙂 or 😉 or : or even a :o?. It is interesting to think and talk about how touch extends beyond the human species, (what dog doesn’t like a belly rub from its human?) yet we haven’t full embraced its capability throughout our world.
For us humans, there is an opportunity for haptics to be used as a communication language in situations where sight and sound aren’t enough. Touch stands on its own as a language. In fact, there are multiple ways in which touch can communicate. Touch can tell you when something is hot or cold. It can tell you when something is painful. It translates emotions, texture, proximity and value. These are all different kind of senses that can be interpreted through touch.
From a heartfelt hug to greet or console, to a tap on the shoulder to signal your presence, to holding hands while strolling through the park, humans build true connections through the sense of touch. As our world becomes more and more digital and a little less personal in the process, haptics bring back those feelings of being together in a powerful emotional way.
An example of how haptics are being used to communicate today is in the wearable device, which presents a unique opportunity for touch or haptic feedback because the device is always touching the wearer’s skin. Notifications that are not seen or heard can be felt. Immersion’s TouchSense Core, along with our Instinctive Alerts Framework, provides the technology that wearables need to communicate information to the user in the most intuitive and meaningful way.
As I spend my days and nights building out TouchSense Engage, Immersion’s platform for rich communication through haptics in content and media, I’m not thinking of how the technology will work for aliens. I do feel that there is such a rich future in the way technology and entertainment companies will embrace haptics. Soon enough, we won’t accept playing Angry Birds without feeling each successful demolition or watching Fast 7 without sensing the roar of the engine.
While NASA may not really be willing to send one of our haptic devices into space to communicate with aliens just yet, it’s important for us to remember how communication is changing and how the language of touch will be a part of the revolution.