Editor’s note: This 2012 IBM 5-in-5 article is by Robyn Schwartz, associate
director of IBM Research Retail Analytics, and Dhandapani Shanmugam, solutions architect and Siddique A. Mohammed, software
architect of IBM Software Group Industry Solutions.
Within the next five years, your mobile device will let you touch
what you’re shopping for online. It will distinguish fabrics, textures, and
weaves so that you can feel a sweater, jacket, or upholstery – right through
moves to mobile
the U.S., online sales for Thanksgiving and Black Friday were up almost 20%
from the same two days in 2011, according to data from IBM Smarter Commerce.
Haptic devices such as gloves or “rumble packs” used in
gaming have existed for years. But we use them in closed environments where the
touch doesn’t actually connect to where we are in reality. We at IBM Research
think that in the next five years that our mobile devices will bring together
virtual and real world experiences to not just shop, but feel the surface of
produce, and get feedback on data such as freshness or quality.
It’s already possible to recreate a sense of texture through
vibration. But those vibrations haven’t been translated into a lexicon, or
dictionary of textures that match the physical experience. By matching
variable-frequency patterns of vibration to physical objects so, that when a
shopper touches what the webpage says is a silk shirt, the screen will emit
vibrations that match what our skin mentally translates to the feel of silk.
Vibrating air to feel like something solid
Using digital image processing and digital image
correlation, we can capture texture qualities in a Product Information
Management (PIM) system to act as that dictionary. Retailers could then use it
to match textures with their products and their products’ data – sizes,
ingredients, dimensions, cost, and any other information the customer might
expect. The dictionary of texture will also grow and evolve as we grow our
appetite, usage and understanding of this kind of technology.
We’re not ready to virtually high-five Tupac Shakur’s
hologram through a phone – yet. Soon though, the phone will be able to emit a
field of vibrations. Just millimeters from the screen. And the vibrations will
be subtle. Your phone won’t shake out of your hand, but will deliver a recognizable
sensation. Imagine shopping for a wedding dress on a
phone or tablet, and being able to feel the satin gown, or even the intricate
beading and buttons, or the lace on the veil.
Beyond the clothing rack
Starting in retail makes sense because we all intrinsically
understand the browsing and shopping experience. We all naturally respond to
and understand texture, from a soft pair of socks to a ripe piece of fruit.
The touch of somethingtranslated,
based on accumulated data in a database down to an end user’s mobile device
could also have the power to help us gain new understandings of our
environment. Take farming, for example. Farmers could use a mobile device
to determine the health of their crop by comparing what they’re growing to a
dictionary of healthy options that they feels through a tablet.
The technology could evolve beyond communicating textures retrieved
from some database, and toward real time touch translation gained from
accumulated user interaction with the technology. What is one of the first
things a doctor does when treating an injured patient? Touch the injury. The
patient could send a photo of an injury to let the doctor feel the injury
remotely to help make a faster diagnosis – before or perhaps instead of
visiting the doctor in person.
Five years may not seem like enough time to begin feeling
what you shop for through your smart phone. But look at how far the smart phone
has come. You can see the people you talk to via a camera. You can remotely adjust
your home’s thermostat, or set your home alarm system; pay your babysitter;
find your way to a local pizza restaurant; and watch a movie. Why can’t it also
help you stay in “touch” with your environment?
If you think cognitive systems will most-likely have the ability to touch, before augmenting the other senses, vote for it, here.
IBM thinks these cognitive systems will connect to all of
our other senses. You can read more about sight, smell, hearing, and taste technology
in this year’s IBM 5 in 5.