The Tactile Internet

We have discussed the Internet of Things before (see our article here), and in this piece we are delving into another arm of this exciting area, which has been mentioned as the next revolution. The term ‘Tactile Internet’ generally describes human-to-machine interaction (and also machine-to-machine interaction) and it is an evolution which has come from many of the features we may not realise have existed on our handsets for several recent model iterations. It is a term that was coined by Professor Gerhard Fettweis from the Technical University of Dresden in Germany in 2015, forming part of a greater series of studies and investigations into the potentials of the fourth industrial revolution, so named ‘industry 4.0’.

The Tactile Internet will allow users to experience sensations simultaneously as they interact with machines. In a much smaller example, this is similar to the sensations that are felt via vibrations on a mobile handset ostensibly while playing games. In its initial proof of concept, using the ‘O-phone’ operating system developed on Android, smells were integrated into the reading experience at pertinent points during an e-book journey. The concept has been around for some years, and even at that stage was developed into market ready products, such as the Cyrano Digital Scent Speaker.

When considering how we use technology, tactile feedback is an obvious advance. Wearable technology (see our article here), when considering virtual reality headsets and smart glasses, offers a completely immersive experience to the user, and one of the senses which hasn’t thus far been integrated is touch. This hasn’t been for lack of trying. The technicalities of real time tactile feedback come down to matching the reaction time of the human involved in the interaction – as a guide, one millisecond end to end latency is the required level of response; this has been challenging to achieve.

What Are the Applications?

This is not just a recreational advance, although that will be the public face of the Tactile Internet. The world of gaming will no doubt be transformed. This is an incredibly useful development when we consider the world of robotics where autonomy is not used. There are many high-risk situations where the man-machine interface is essential (bomb disposal to name but one) in a manner which matches the reaction and dexterity of the human user.

In the field of surgery, based on this technology and the promise it holds, in principle a surgeon would be able to remotely operate on a patient in a fully immersive way, experiencing haptic and tactile feedback as they operate. Perhaps this will be done hand in hand with wearable tech which would fully immerse the surgeon in the situation.

In the military world, drones are actively controlled by users often on the other side of the world, and this is an area where latency has proven to be problematic, meaning a greater reliance on artificial intelligence has been required.

Exo-skeleton suits are also in development which allow touch and weight sensation all over the body. In the world of eCommerce it is therefore possible that a user would be able to immerse themselves into a virtual shop and actually inspect an item and feel its texture and weight before committing to purchase.

The Tactile Internet offers so many possibilities in so many areas, and brings the world of science fiction a number of steps closer to reality.

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