The end of the 20th century was the era when the keyboard and mouse increasingly had to tolerate the competition of touchscreens. We are now in 2019 and the development of how we interact with products (UX-design) is a recognized profession. More and more products can be operated in innovative ways, e.g. with our voice or even our brains. But in the vision of Xavier Rottenberg, scientific director and group leader wave-based sensors and actuators at imec, all this technology will already be outdated by the middle of the 21st century. By then, we will only talk about a bi-directional human-environment interface: a symbiotic relationship between people and the environment, supported by largely hidden technology. But what are we going to use it for? And above all: how are we going to make it happen?
Visit from Mars
In 2031, the Mars One project plans to permanently house its first crew on the red planet. But even when traveling up and down to Mars becomes feasible, a single journey will take six to eight months. So Mars travelers will be separated from home for a few years. That may pose some problems, because anyone who has been on a (business) trip for a shorter or longer period of time knows that the lack of homely warmth cannot yet be compensated for by apparent quality time on FaceTime or Skype.
But let’s not despair. By 2035, the technology for telepresence - the presence from a distance – will be so realistic that it can no longer be distinguished from reality. We will 'beam me up Scotty' not with our physical self, but with our avatar or virtual twin who can travel anywhere and anytime to compensate for our absence. Which means you can be 225 million kilometers from home and still be in time to give a good night kiss to your children. And for the observant reader: of course we will have come up with an argument why we should go to Mars ourselves and not our avatar... "We choose to go the Moon!", remember?
Excite all our senses with only light and sound
In fact, telepresence is not that difficult on paper. You only need two basic technologies: photonics (light) and phononics (sound). Or, let us call them advanced optical and acoustic systems. Because they are, of course, far from simple.
Both are based on waves but rely on very different physical processes: acoustic technology is based on the mechanical vibration of matter (solid, liquid or gasous) and deals with phonons, while optical technology is based on electromagnetic field oscillations and deals with photons. With these two technologies or a clever combination, we envision that we will be able to read and influence all the senses.
A virtual presence will then be nothing more than a complex interplay between advanced projections and collections of sound and light waves.