Tasting Digital: How the Way you Sense the World Will Change in the Next Decade

January 7, 2021

Written by Caio Castro

In 2013, Google announced the launch of a revolutionary search tool: Google Nose. This feature would allow people to search for scents. That is, instead of just reading about a flower or visualising a photo of it, you could smell it using your laptop or smartphone. Too good to be true?

It certainly was: It was an April Fool’s joke after all. But almost eight years later, technologies like this are inching closer to become a reality.

Actually, there is already a term for them. Ericsson’s Research team, for example, calls the new era of connectivity the Internet of Senses, in which people will be able to virtually feel the world without using gadgets, smartphones included. It consists of six applications – mind, smell, sight, taste, touch, and sound.

By 2030, technology is set to respond to our thoughts, and even share them with others.
Using the brain as an interface could mean the end of keyboards, mouses...Read More

By 2030, technology is set to respond to our thoughts, and even share them with others.

Using the brain as an interface could mean the end of keyboards, mouses, game controllers, and ultimately user interfaces for any digital device. The user need only think the commands, and they will happen. Smartphones could even function without touch screens. With that, privacy will play a huge role in the future.

Typical online experiences don’t involve scent today; however, consumers are estimating our sense of smell to be a key part of the internet by 2030.
56 perce...Read More

Typical online experiences don’t involve scent today; however, consumers are estimating our sense of smell to be a key part of the internet by 2030.

56 percent expect to be able to digitally savour all the smells in films they watch.

it also seems consumers are open for innovation in this field, with 47 percent expecting smell data to be available for companies to use commercially.

Among the several applications based on sight, by 2030, 4 in 10 consumers foresee the rise in popularity of online photos that are guaranteed to be unedited.
A...Read More

Among the several applications based on sight, by 2030, 4 in 10 consumers foresee the rise in popularity of online photos that are guaranteed to be unedited.

As many as 43 percent foresee video calling services that only transmit unmodified, verified human faces. This trend is even more accentuated when it comes to dating services, where 46 percent see dating sites including only verified facts being popular in 2030.

Could you imagine putting a device in your mouth that digitally enhances the food you eat, so that anything can taste exactly how you want it to? By 2030, 44 pe...Read More

Could you imagine putting a device in your mouth that digitally enhances the food you eat, so that anything can taste exactly how you want it to? By 2030, 44 percent expect this to be possible.

More than 4 in 10 expect a revolution in online shopping as we gain the ability to digitally taste samples from the comfort of our own devices.

Going forward, people will think of digital touch as something affecting their whole body. 63 percent of the respondents expect smartphones with screens that co...Read More

Going forward, people will think of digital touch as something affecting their whole body. 63 percent of the respondents expect smartphones with screens that convey the shape and texture of the digital icons and buttons that they are pressing.

But the ability to feel digital textures might go way beyond the confines of the smartphone screen. In fact, 6 in 10 think wristbands that stimulate the nerves so you can feel any digital object will be available by 2030.

By 2030, people expect to be even more in control of how their voices come across in any language. More than 7 in 10 expect to have earphones that automatically...Read More

By 2030, people expect to be even more in control of how their voices come across in any language. More than 7 in 10 expect to have earphones that automatically and flawlessly translate languages.

The survey also shows that 51 percent of respondents believe they will have headbands that can transmit sound directly to their brains.

Source: 10 Hot Consumer Trends 2030 – Internet of Senses

Home page icons: Ericsson ConsumerLab

In a survey conducted with 7,608 respondents, Ericsson found that 68% of the consumers want to use at least one of these applications by 2030, and a stunning 81% are open to the idea overall.

But before we can attain that future, technology needs to evolve. Prior to 5G, mobile networks did not provide the necessary capabilities to deliver such experiences. Even today’s advancements like virtual reality and augmented reality demand more from the internet than it can easily support. However, this is starting to change, according to the Ericsson report.

“We live in a screen-based 4G world where smartphones are integral to our lives, but people aren’t expecting this to be the case for much longer. As consumers step further into this sensory digital world, they will require hyper-fast connectivity, imperceptible edge computing-based lag and advanced automation,” the report reads.

Not only consumers will require enhanced performance from mobile networks: New technologies that 5G and, in the future, 6G connections will enable, will demand more robust network capabilities if they are to come to market.

Holograms, for instance, will use volumetric video instead of today’s two-dimensional model. That means the available data rate for sending real 3D images over the internet must be much higher, from 5G’s 20 Gbps to 6G’s expected 1 Tbps.

But video and audio are just the tip of the iceberg compared to the experiences that the Internet of Senses could provide by 2030.

Imagine you can taste beforehand the flavour of a meal you want to order online, or a beverage you will gift for your significant other in a virtual store. Or even to fill up a cup of water and decide how the liquid will taste.

Well, this last one can already de done.

Adding a spoonful of sugar to the Internet of Senses

Bringing odours to virtual experiences is nothing new per se. Attempts to add these sensations to movie theatres started in the 1910s, while perhaps the most famous experience with it, Smell-O-Vision, became well-known in the 1960s.

Six decades later, video and audio are still the main subjects of studies and technology advancements, while taste and smell continue to lag behind. The explanation for that is not as simple as you might imagine.

“I think it has a long answer. But, in short, this is more a high risk, high reward area in terms of the research mindset,” says Nimesha Ranasinghe, Assistant Professor at the University of Maine. “That is why I think a lot of people do not want to move into this new landscape, especially related to engineering, devices, and all these tangible aspects. But that does not mean people are not studying the concepts behind [these] perceptions.”

Ranasinghe has been researching this field since 2008, when he started thinking about how to humanise the technology for his PhD project. Since then, he and his team have come up with some prototypes, including (see images below, in order of citation):

  • The Vocktail: A bottle that lets the user personalise the taste of the water. It is equipped with aroma tubes and LED lights to enhance the experience, and electrodes responsible for stimulating the tongue. There is also an app which controls the taste.
  • The Virtual Lemonade: A set of appliances that allow a person to share a taste over the internet. It is equipped with a sensor that captures the colour and pH of a real lemonade.
  • The Virtual Lollipop: A system that simulates tastes as in a lollipop.

 

All these inventions stimulate areas in the tongue to recreate flavours without using chemicals. The Vocktail and the Virtual Lemonade also include colour change, which influences the final perception of taste.

These are some of the first steps in creating a sensory internet in the future. Ranasinghe says that next generations of mobile connectivity, 6G included, will play a significant role in enabling more senses within digital experiences. But that, right now, the safer bet is on the Internet of Things.

“When we move to 5G and then 6G and beyond, I think we will start to add new solutions, like the virtual reality experience. We will be able to create technologies to immediately connect to someone else’s stream in virtual reality. And then you are not there only with the visual aspects, but also [others like] the haptic sensations,” the professor said. “Researchers around the world are looking at other potential applications. The Internet of Things is one of the aspects which has huge potential.”

Not only for commercial purposes

Even though sensory solutions are receiving heavy attention from the retail world – it is no coincidence that the “Internet of Senses” term has been coined by Ericsson’s Consumer Lab – the rise of such technologies can largely benefit people with disabilities.

And at least in a basic level, the foundation for it is being already laid. “One year and a half ago, there were some visitors in the lab. I had created a random taste or flavour experience with the chocolate smell. Apparently one of the visitors was allergic to chocolate, had never had the taste of it since he was five or six years old. He started to drink the water and went crazy,” Ranasinghe said.

According to him, the Internet of Senses can also have utility for people facing chemotherapy treatment and who have lost their ability to taste flavours, for example.

While we are years away from being able to sniff smells on e-commerce websites, the good news is that progress has been made quickly. As Ranasinghe says, “We can already see some of the gains of these solutions, probably not using digital technologies to enable them. […] But I would say it could be done pretty soon.”

Drop us a line

Interested in contributing to 6GWorld.com? Let's connect to learn more about your ideas.

View 6GSymposium content here!

Drop us a line

Interested in contributing to 6GWorld.com? Let's connect to learn more about your ideas.

Recent Posts

When Quantum Computing Met Photonics

When Quantum Computing Met Photonics

The race to build a quantum computer is slightly overstated in Ravitej Uppu’s view. Of course, downplaying it is easy if you’ve taken a huge step forward ahead of the rest of the field, which he and fellow researchers at the University of Copenhagen just did. Going Up...

The Balancing Act Between Smart City Security and Privacy

The Balancing Act Between Smart City Security and Privacy

Greater needs for data security have surfaced alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, privacy issues - related to contact-tracing apps, for example - weigh heavily, but that surveillance debate is just the tip of the iceberg. A new set of priorities is taking...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This