If I had to explain a human sense, in our digital world, I would describe it as a biological sensor that responds to a specific physical stimuli and transmits the data to brain cells that later interpret them for us and may lead to a response.
Our biological senses respond to physical stimuli, but could we develop a sensor that responds to stimuli created in the digital world?
I believe the answer is simple; yes. For example, I could get a notification delivered directly to my brain when something important is happening, such as my child has not returned from school on time or when my glucose level is high.
The idea isn’t unprecedented. Many animals have unusual biological sensors that to support their surroundings and lifestyle. This however, took millions of years; we could create something in just a few.
Over the last few years, we’ve developed new technologies to help people with different disabilities to gain back their lost senses. Advances include a tiny eye implant that restores sight to the blind and electronic hearing devices that help people with severe hearing loss.
While these technologies are very important for our society and for the people who need them, their main goal is to restore (or provide an alternative to) the damaged/missing sense that respond to a physical stimuli.
How do we create a digital sense?
Digital senses aren’t as far away as you may think. Smartwatches have started to emerge. Although they are still in their first release version people struggle to understand the benefit of them. Is it yet another screen to look at? Does it just save me from having to take my phone out of my pocket? Will it replace some tasks I do on my smartphone? Or is it just another input peripheral to my smartphone? Where is the value to me?
While most of the available applications of a smartwatch are to bring the smartphone notifications to my eyes via a screen on my wrist, there is another – hidden- value in such devices and that is to develop a new sense. I call it the Digital Sense.
A digital sense can respond to digital events, convert them into physical ones and transmit that information to our brain cells in non-invasive methods – for example, with a combination of one or more micro vibrations. The human brain will then interpret them and respond.
In the digital mobile world, smartphones receive data from many sources: the web, email, embedded sensors and cloud services. However, the main method smartphones use to convey all this data to the human brain is via a screen. As a result, we find ourselves spending many hours in front of multiple screens in order to consume data.
Google Glass introduced new possibilities in the way we interact with and respond to our digital world. Some would say that Google Glass failed as it was too intrusive and harmful to real world social experiences.
A sensor would never do this. A sensor should be part of the body and transmit information for the brain cells to process – not to form another obstacle as we saw with Google Glass.
I believe that by taking advantage of wearable technologies and using them to transform digital data into a physical stimulus that our biological sensors can interpret, in a non-invasive way, will be the most valuable application of wearables. I believe it will dramatically increase the adoption of wearable tech as the value proposition can be immediately understood.
Imagine a smartband on your wrist or a smart device on your shirt that will vibrate or move when your glucose level is high or when your family or colleagues urgently need you.
This is not the notification sound, as we know it from our smartphone today. They are intrusive, not necessarily private and not properly secured. It is more advanced than that. It’s a new sense that we wear and transforms our digital data into something our biological sense can transmit to our brain cells in a non-intrusive, secure and private way. This is where wearable technologies will find their home, not as an additional tiny screen.
Recently I experimented and implementation of such new sense on my wrist, and I do not feel like I will let it go any time soon.