We all know about our five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Many people believe we also have a kinesthetic sense, which is what some folks believe is a sort of spiritual sense — for instance, when they perceive another person is in a room with them even though the other person is behind them and hasn’t made a sound. It’s as though they sensed them unconsciously. Personally, I seem to have another type of sense that I don’t know what to call, but it relates to anticipating things just before they happen; a lot of my experiences with this have been unsettling at times.
These extra senses are difficult to qualify and in many cases even hard to explain, but we are about to enter an era where a digital sixth sense will become a reality. Not only can this sixth sense be qualified, but it can be repeated as needed.
One of the more basic examples of a digital sixth sense comes from the many new wearable health monitors popping up these days: products like the Nike Fuel, Jawbone UP and Fitbit, to name just a few. For the past eight months I have been wearing the Nike Fuel on my wrist, a Fitbit clipped to my belt and a watch that can give me a pulse readout on demand.
I have to admit that monitoring my health in any way was foreign to me until I had a triple bypass last June. Let’s just say that this was a serious wake-up call that got me more interested in my health on a lot of levels. Part of my recovery process included walking, simple weightlifting and various movements to get my heart health back and to help my body recover from this very invasive surgery.
Luckily, these digital health monitoring tools had just come onto the market and my wife and son made sure I had at least two of them to help monitor myself and motivate me to move. In every sense of the word, these became a digital sixth sense, as they told me things I could not see or understand without them. I especially used them to monitor sleep patterns, steps walked and pulse rate, which became critical since some of my medications brought my pulse to under 50 beats per minute, a level only fine-tuned athletes achieve when in peak condition. In fact, this info alone had a major effect on my doctor’s decision to modify some of my heart medications at the time.
Another technology that will deliver a digital sixth sense is Google Glass. While the jury is still out about whether this exact product will be successful, make no mistake: this product concept will eventually become a mainstream tool and enable us to “sense” or get all types of information that is put in front of us in forms of enhanced content. These types of glasses will put digital information into our sight lines and let users get all types of content on demand such as news, sports, maps and directions in real time.
Using voice commands, you can search for info about what you see in front of you as well as snap pictures or take videos. In a piece I wrote here a few weeks back, I even shared what I thought a killer app could be for Google Glass. I am a world traveler and have to deal with multiple languages while overseas. I would want Google Glasses or something similar to be connected to a language translator, and when I see a sign in the local language, it would instantly translate what the sign says for me. Various apps such as Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms are being written for Google Glass and with these, you can get direct access quickly to feedback from the people you’re connected to on your social networks. It is pretty clear that something like Google Glass could deliver a lot of digital sixth sense content that in today’s world is hidden in a device in your pocket or purse and can not be viewed the same way it can when delivered to you via something like Goggle Glass.
Here is a link to some other uses for Google Glass to give you more ideas of how this type of product can deliver sixth sense content.
Perhaps the most interesting digital sixth sense technology may come from augmented reality programs. In a way, it’s similar to using Google Glass in the sense that you can get info overlaid on top of what you’re seeing, but it goes way beyond that. And in a lot of cases, your smartphone or tablet may be better platforms for delivering augmented reality sixth sense experiences.
What is augmented reality? Last October, I wrote a column here explaining this new technology that’s coming on the scene now.
Here is what I wrote at that time to explain it:
The first time I saw it in action was when the folks at Verizon had partnered with a U.S. company working on AR. They showed me a magazine ad for a boot. When I activated the AR app on a smartphone and pointed it at the boot ad in the magazine, I could virtually lift the boot off the page and turn it 360 degrees or look at its bottom sole to get a sense of what that boot would look like in person.
But the folks from Zappar take this idea to new levels. One demo they showed me was of a Roald Dahl’s children’s book that was Zappar-enabled. When you point your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet at a page in the book when using the Zappar viewing app, animated characters from the story pop onto the screen of the mobile device to “augment” the story line and experience. Or you can point it at a page that has black and white photos and the app colors them in. Or you can even have the app read the entire page aloud in a storyteller’s voice.
Zappar has been a big hit with Hollywood studios, too. The company recently AR’d movie posters and ad pages for Dreamwork’s dancing penguins feature Happy Feet Two. When the mobile app is pointed at the poster or ad in a magazine, the lead penguin dances a jig. What’s also cool is that you can keep the picture of the lead penguin on your screen and then point it at any kind of setting to virtually put the penguin in that setting. For example, Casper showed me the penguin in front of Big Ben as well as the Houses of Parliament.
The technology can even be used to put games on top of a picture. One example is putting the Zappar reader in the jewel case cover of a PlayStation, Xbox or Nintendo game and when you point your mobile device at the picture on the jewel case cover, a representation of the game pops up that can be played on your smartphone or tablet. The same can be done as an ad for a video game in any magazine — a game pops up related to the ad and can be played on the spot.
Another interesting example is a mug with an AR code on the side, and when you point an iPad or iPhone at it using an AR app created by the AR23D Agency in cooperation with Paladone — a leading designer and developer of souvenirs in the UK — you can play basketball with a virtual net that pops up on the side of the mug. It is worth the time to look at this short YouTube video since it will help you understand in a more visual way what augmented reality really is and why I think of this as a digital sixth sense technology:
We are in the early stages of digital sixth sense development, but from the examples I have shared above and with some of the things I have seen in the labs that are being created to enhance our digital experiences, I am certain that all of us will soon be able to tap into digital technology in ways that will allow us to embrace our digital sixth sense.
Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every Monday on TIME Tech.