Holograms. Emotive, life-like digital human beings. Washing machine repairs directed from miles away.
The rollout of 5G wireless networks that will continue throughout 2019 and beyond promises a slew of new smartphones that will hum along much faster than the models they’ll eventually replace. But while zippier handsets compatible with the next generation of wireless are surely welcome, 5G’s potential extends beyond them.
5G works in tandem with other technologies, notably artificial intelligence, augmented reality and enhanced computer vision, which as the name suggests, is the machine’s ability to make sense of what it sees.
In each of the examples below, 5G promises to handle the big lift in processing data that digests a lot of bandwidth.
A very real but make-believe concierge
She is attractive, emotive – and all-too-real. But Lia is an emotionally intelligent “artificial human” from New Zealand startup Soul Machines, with expressions and slight skin imperfections that make it difficult to tell that she is digital.
The idea is that you will engage with Lia, or a digital person like her, to perhaps book a vacation to Paris, to find an ideal credit card, to handle technical support, or to interact in some other customer service fashion.
Soul Machine’s other customers include Daimler and Royal Bank of Scotland. But fascinating as Lia is, you can’t help but be wigged out by the prospect of not knowing if the person you are communicating with is human. And that is kind of creepy.
Evercoast is a computer vision and 3D sensing software company that can exploit 5G to turn people in real-time into holograms. The goal is to shift the way people communicate from 2D to 3D. Along the way, you may experience new products, play games, and even interact with each other differently. Holographic telepresence promises to enable fresh shopping experiences, and impact corporate training, telemedicine and more.
At the Verizon lab, Evercoast set up a “volumetric” rig with two-dozen off-the-shelf depth-sensing cameras. The company’s software rendered the 3D hologram more or less in real-time.
Such 3D content might be displayed on a large TV monitors, a glass cube display, via a mobile phone or augmented reality headset.
Your internet router or washing machine is on the fritz, but the repair expert can’t come to the house anytime soon. A startup known as Streem can arrange a real-time virtual visit, accomplished through augmented reality and video.
5G will let Streem stream higher quality video, certainly compared to 4G and in some cases even Wi-Fi.
Say you or a loved one has a food allergy. Sure, you can physically inspect each box of cereal or other food item you come across in the grocery store to see if it contains nuts or some other ingredient to avoid.
Verizon’s own 5G developers propose a more hopeful solution, which uses augmented reality to blend online shopping with physical retail.
Such technologies will take time to implement, and there’s no guarantee of wide consumer acceptance. Some of these have serious privacy implications, too, that bear watching. What they again demonstrate, though, is that 5G’s potential, while just that, is enormous and not just about your phone.