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.
Pre-orders are in and the Apple Watch will be arriving in consumers’ hands any day now. Although everyone is still making predictions on if, when and how many consumers will adopt Apple Watch, it is safe to say that the wearables revolution is already here.
It makes sense that the watch is the next big thing to fully cross over to the digital universe. After all, the watch has been a source of information (telling time and date, and other things) for quite a while.
Watches are a timeless item that have literally existed since the dawn of time. The first wrist watch was created in 1812 for Caroline Murat, Queen of Naples. Since then wrist watches have successfully continued to evolve, relying on technology to keep them up to speed with the next generation of users.
In today’s ‘time’, the divergent path for the watch may be that it is a way to connect and be closer to other people – a function that has been held tightly by the phone for centuries. This is where the debate gets hot. Will the watch become successful at expanding beyond its functional use to become a channel for communication? We know that the watch will not likely replace the mobile phone (talking into a watch gets old pretty fast). However it has some distinguishing characteristics that make it special as a personal device. It is always touching the user and it functions in a silent, personal way that doesn’t have to be shared with the public.
The first step for the digital watch, however, is making sure that it still functions as intended, and that it provides its own value separate from the mobile phone. The mobile phone did usurp its function for a little while, even though pulling out the phone to tell time was inconvenient. Apple, at a cost that puts it in the luxury category, is setting up the watch to not be a throw away item. For the average consumers, makers will need to do a better job at designing the device to fit into people’s lifestyles. We know that haptics is part of the equation to making the connected digital watch intuitive to use.
Once we get past this point, we’ll have another platform to explore for creating deeper, more meaningful communications that will impact how we connect with others. Beyond that it’s exciting to see another platform emerge that will change consumers’ proximity to becoming fully immersed into the digital world.