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Recreating Dick Tracy's wrist radio with the expected arrival of Apple Watch

With the much anticipated arrival of the Apple Watch in April, this article looks into the haptic and telexistence technologies behind the latest iDevice's bells and whistles

World Scientific

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IMAGE: This is the cover for: Robot Hands and Multi-Fingered Haptic Interfaces (by Haruhisa Kawasaki; Gifu University, Japan). view more

Credit: World Scientific Publishing

Conceptualized from Dick Tracy's wrist radio, the Apple Watch will not only allow users to communicate with anybody using a smartphone, but is also expected to immerse users into the experience of telexistance: the sensation of their counterparts being physically in front of them, through the ability to feel their heartbeats while sharing their sense of humour.

The image of Dick Tracy talking to a wrist watch to anyone using the same device, within a certain distance, puts the concept of mobile communication in a nutshell. Mobile devices have come a long way. From the car-bound radio communications in the 1920s, to the two-way 'Walkie-Talkie' developed for the US Army Signal Corps by (then) Motorola in the 1940s -- it took breakthroughs in battery technology to bring the weight of Motorola's whooping 16kg Walkie-Talkies down to today's sub-130g smartphones, along with the advancement in VLSI technology (integrated circuits), to complete the jigsaw puzzle, enabling us to carry our smart mobile devices in our pockets. All these basic components that make up a mobile device must be able to support each other mutually. An example we can follow in modern times is Google's Project Ara.

However, it is not enough to have all these components just 'work together'. The user must be involved. The Dick Tracy Dream was to create a wearable device that engages three out of our five senses (to hear, to see, and to feel or touch). The advancement of haptic interfaces to support tapping gestures on the Watch to select, or press harder for what Apple calls "Force Touch" that works like the right-click function on a mouse, or a Multi Touch interface in the Watch's "Digital Crown" -- to zoom in and out of the screen -- vibration alert functions, integrated monitoring and measurement capabilities (e.g. the accelerometer function), and the heartbeat monitor on the back of the Apple Watch, delivers the full immersion.

Understanding user experience is the result of a confluence of technologies, Immersion Design has taking a system level approach to developing haptic solutions to provide natural and realistic touch effects, while also inventing new contexts in which users experience haptics. Two forthcoming titles ideal for techies and Apple enthusiasts who wish to better understand the haptic technology behind these interfaces are Robot Hands and Multi-Fingered Haptic Interfaces (by Haruhisa Kawasaki; Gifu University, Japan) and Telexistence (by Susumu Tachi; University of Tokyo and Keio University, Japan). (Prof. Kawasaki is the inventor of the concept and phrase "Telexistence".)

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Robot Hands retails at US$128 / £24 with Telexistence at US$98 / £65. More information can be found at: http://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/9400 and http://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/9248 respectively.

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