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Sensory Experience - A Sense Of Interfaces To Come

December 10, 2009 | Chris Payatagool

By Sagee Ben-Zedeff

In a recent post on his blog, Tsahi discussed how the iPhone "changed the game" when it comes to product design. The best and most obvious example he gives is touch technology, which has become "the most coveted input technology". In the recently held World Innovation Summit, Amichai Ben-David, CEO of N-trig, Israeli manufacturer of revolutionary multi-point touch screens, admitted that the unprecedented success of the iPhone drove everyone to understand that touch is the most intuitive form of input for users.

Demo clip of N-trig's Duo-Sense Technology

But if touch is so intuitive, what about the rest of the senses?  Can they be used as user interfaces?!  I decided to consult the expert, in this case Dr. Romi Mikulinsky, whose dissertation, at the University of Toronto's English Department, dealt with the way memory is affected by the transition of photographic images from medium to medium.

The Future Interface: A Sensory Experience

If you look at the way user interfaces (UI) have evolved, Romi says, from the first GUI all the way to the Minority Report -like interfaces that totally dominate today's UI, it's easy to imagine how future interfaces will look: haptic-based (touch screens, multi-touch interface), visual-based (controlled by eye movement), sound-based, brain implanted, using contact lenses, controlled by gestures, mind-controlled - the sky is the limit. The future interface will involve all of our sensors, and will facilitate the way we engage with computers by creating a more intuitive, sensory experience.

These future interfaces will position us inside the data and will expand the way sensory experience is thought of today, as an inner, private experience. These interfaces will enable us to step into the data processing process/experience. Will they eventually help the digital world, or at least the Internet, become a prosthetic organ, an external device that alters, affects or supports our experiences of reality?

Sensory experiences allow us to create seamless interfaces that eliminate the distance between the "inside" and the "outside", and close the gap between man and machine. Seamless interfaces bring us closer to artificial intelligence (AI) by using our intelligence and our senses to directly interact with machines. Nevertheless, these interfaces can become a mechanism that will enable us to learn more about ourselves and about other things in the world.

Playing Solitaire seamlessly
Sceptic about Haptic?  Try To Listen!

Haptic interfaces are no longer science fiction, and it seems that users are willingly adopting them, possibly because they are very natural. In fact, operating a system by waving your hands, for instance, makes you forget you are using any interface, as it is almost totally seamless. No input/output, no clicking and typing, no necessary hardware or dedicated devices. After all, wouldn't it be great if the digital post-it acts like a paper post-it?

But, as you know, we have more than just 2 senses. Our interaction with computers is already based on our eyes and our hands, seeing and touching. How about using other senses, not just sight and touch, as interfaces?

This will be especially beneficial for people with certain handicaps, who can't use the existing interfaces. For instance, for a blind person, a hearing-based interface can make an otherwise unusable system easily accessible. This may sound complicated, but projects like Michal Rinott's SonicTexing or the Tactile Explorer from Tactile World, allow the visually impaired to easily access computer-based applications, which usually require the use of sight.

Can You Smell the Interface?  Taste It!

If I were to suggest using scent or taste as an interface, you may say that I, well, lost my senses. But Romi believes they may be the next new seamless interfaces. Last year SHOWstudio launched a groundbreaking initiative for fragrance over the Internet. I, personally, have seen a demonstration of a motion picture with "fragrance support", where you not only see and hear, but also smell the movie scenes.

And the same goes for taste. Or, at least, our tongue. And if you think I went too far, take a look at The Brain Port, a neural tongue interface which uses 144 micro-electrodes to transmit information through sensitive nerve fibres in our lingua:

Brain Port Demo on Engadget

Combine all of those senses together, and you can see what a real seamless interface might look like in the near future - a total sensory experience. One that would be able to transmit and/or replicate an entire experience. Just imagine how a website like synesthecity would be like, if the sight, sound, smell, taste and touch were transmitted over the Internet.

And, of course, don't forget that illusive, most promising "Sixth sense", which some refer to as extra-sensory perception, and some as our future personal connection to "the cloud". If you haven't seen THAT TED demo, I strongly urge you to do so now. After seeing what can be done with natural, seamless, sensory-based interfaces, there's really no need for additional words.

And Meanwhile In The Real World...

I started off with touch technology, and I want to end with touch technology, but this time with its application for Video Conferencing. I've already written here about the Teliris TouchTable, which is very impressive. But as touch technology is no longer expensive and can be found everywhere, it can be utilized to upgrade your video conferencing experience as well.

Here's a short video showing the latest version of RADVISION's SCOPIA Desktop, utilizing touch technology for a most intuitive and efficient user interface:

Seamless, intuitive, productive - I have a sense we will be seeing everyone and everything following suit in the near future.


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