One of the things that I hear more and more is “collect experiences, not things”. That is a fascinating statement to me on multiple levels. I start thinking about how we collect experiences, and how could we keep increasing the collection realistically. In todays world, this could be done using 3D-technologies. Let us take a journey.
Let us go hunting for a new place to live. We begin our search with photographs and, maybe, some floor plans. This gives us some perspective, but just enough to whet our appetite. The next step would be to actually visit the property and walk around in it. But, what if the property is not yet built, or is inaccessible for a variety of reasons? How will we get the experience we need to trust our decision? This can be done using Virtual Reality (VR). A model of the property can be created which we can use to “walk around” in. It can give us a perspective of the surroundings, the size and the flow. In fact, it can give us more than that – we can get a sense of the light at various times of the day, the seasonal change in surroundings – things that we will not be able to experience even in a visit to the site. Does this give us enough information?
VR is being used today for multiple experiences – some practical, some inaccessible to most people. Take a walk on Mars is an example of an experience that is readily available through VR and something that we would, most likely, not be able to add to our collection in any other way. Will you use VR to go to the top of Mount Everest or attend a live concert of your favourite band?
Let us take this one notch higher. We could take models from companies – furniture, lighting, fittings, etc – and we could place them in the VR model we are walking through. Does the furniture fit nicely leaving enough space to walk? Does the lighting suit the various moods that we are prone to? What is the airflow with the windows open or with the A/C running? Does this increase the information we have?
We can actually do this in our existing abode also. Using Augmented Reality (AR), we would be able to place such furniture models in our home to see how they match up to our existing environment. Ikea Studio is an example of such experiences being available today. Will you use this to place a vase or see how the latest shoe looks on your foot?
How about another notch up? The question you may be asking is how is this an experience? Well, we could get the other senses involved. In addition to light and sound, we could add things like smell, temperature, etc. We already have widespread adoption of sensors today in the home. They sense the temperature and adjust the A/C, they sense your presence and adjust the lighting and they can do a variety of other things. This collection of feedback devices is part of what is called Internet of Things (IoT). The data from the sensors can be fed into control devices which can change the temperature or turn the light on. In fact the models for these reactions can be personalised to you. What if we include the models for these sensors and control systems into our VR model? We can now see how our potential new abode reacts to our presence and other environmental changes. But, are we still feeling it? Well, we interact with AR/VR systems through an interface. The most common interface is audio-visual, but more complete interfaces have been created. If our interface let us feel the airflow and temperature, let us smell our surroundings, tell us how the chair feels to sit on, we are feeling, no? Now, we have even more information.
Recently, the Ferrari 296 GTB was added to Fortnite. This car was designed for real-life and virtual life together. That means that you are driving a car in fortnite which reacts exactly as it would on a real road. With the enhanced interface, this could become a real experience. You could feel the push on the steering wheel as you drove; you could feel the torque of the engine as the gear changed; you could potentially feel the bumps in the road or even the g-forces as you accelerated or braked. What a rush that would be!
Well, another level, then? What if the furniture does not fit exactly? Can you ask the manufacturer to decrease the length by 5cm? Can you request an extra bulb in that light fixture? Now, we are actually providing feedback into the system. This can help make our environment become what we want it to become. This can help us shape our experience, not just in the virtual world, but, eventually, in the real world also. Manufacturers would also be happy since they have a new revenue stream without the addition of significant effort to every sale. Now, we are creating information.
You could customise the Ferrari based on the virtual experience and have it manufactured to that spec. In fact, the virtual model could then become the digital twin of your actual car which would allow a mechanic to not only spot trouble quickly, but even predict it. You could do the same to your shoe or anything that you are experiencing in the virtual or augmented world.
But, a major question crops up. How does a manufacturer create a custom piece just for us? We all know that custom manufacturing is rare and very expensive. This brings us to the last piece of the puzzle – Additive Manufacturing, better known as 3D Printing. 3D Printing is designed for mass customization. You can take a 3D model and create a real object out of it. The benefits are enormous (mass customisation, hyperlocal manufacturing, near-zero wastage, ability to create complex geometry), but that is a discussion for a different time. Today, 3D printing is being used across multiple industries including construction. The materials that can be used range from plastic to metals to bio-materials and even food. While there are limitations, they are being overcome, it seems, on a daily basis. Now, it seems, we are creating reality…
This whole paradigm could be extended to any field. Jewellery and dentistry have made great strides here. The auto and aerospace industries are making this a reality. The potential in medicine are enormous (3D printed organs anybody?). The spectrum of 3D technologies today is mind boggling. A fully integrated 3D chain has the potential to change the way we experience the world itself, across all its spheres. Maybe, it has the potential to change the world itself.
What do you think about the possibilities? Do you believe in being able to experience things as they are intended?