What will the Internet of Senses mean for branding and digital services?

We spoke to Pernilla Jonsson, Head of the Consumer and Industry Lab at Ericsson, to get a look into the future.

We believe that we’re heading for a more immersive world, where we’ll gradually connect more senses. Away from screens and into a future where digital and physical experiences can merge and enhance each other.

Imagine enjoying the deliciousness of fresh strawberries with heaps of whipped cream without a single calorie, feeling the quality of the fabric of a dress you’re about to order online or splashing your feet in the Fontana di Trevi without leaving your living room.

The Internet of Senses is one of eight technological pathways to the future developed by Ericsson. It’s a scenario where we’ll get to use all our senses for digital experiences: not just sight and hearing, but also taste, touch and smell. And that’s not the end of it – we’ll even be able to use our brain as the user interface, directing computers and programs with our thoughts.

Pernilla Jonsson has the exciting job of looking for future trends together with a team including macroeconomists, sustainability researchers and designers. They’ve interviewed early tech adopters in a study with 12.000 people from 15 big cities around the world, informing Ericsson’s view of what we can expect by 2030.

“The pandemic has made us more open to digital experiences, and the new behaviors that increase our quality of life are here to stay. According to our surveys, interest in new ways of interacting has risen sharply and we’re more open to Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR),” says Pernilla. “In the future, once there are more sensors and we are wearing more connected devices, we’ll be able to transfer and access data in ways that are hard to imagine today. Experiences and sensations will come to life for us through AR-lenses and other devices and will affect all of our senses.”

It sounds utopian, but such technology exists already. Already five years ago there was examples of drone racing using a Brain Computer Interface to control the movement of the drones. The idea is to connect digital impulses with your body, so that you experience them as movement, smells, tastes, and physical sensations. In the gaming industry, solutions to make you feel a hit or touch already exist.

“Decoding brainwaves may sound very scary, but once you see the incredible benefits it can bring for people – like the trials connecting prosthetic limbs with BCI – you know that acceptance of the technology is coming.”

That sounds incredible. But will we be able to for instance touch a digital piece of clothing and get a true sense of what it feels like?

“Today, we have a prototype where you can play a game of Jenga with sensory feedback – you can feel the weight of the wooden block in your hands, feel it disappear when you let go and even feel your opponent pulling it away from you. Getting the feel of a fabric requires more sophisticated devices than what’s on the market today – but the concept of touch is in use already, for instance in the world of gaming.”

Concepts that create digital experiences of taste and scent also exist already, but they have a long way to go before they’re discrete enough that we’d all want to use them every day. But once they’re here – imagine the possibilities! What will it mean for branding and communication?

“50% of smartphone users globally believe that we’ll all be using AR glasses by 2025."

Pernilla Johsson, Head of the Consumer and Industry Lab at Ericsson

“Communication will have to be even more personalized and hyper relevant,” Pernilla says. “Imagine that your blood sugar is low, and you get a whiff of your favorite soup together with a map of where you’ll find it. Doesn’t that add value? Or imagine an innovative use of sound to create a silent bubble in the entry to a shop on a very noisy street in Hongkong – that’s a strong experience of a brand.”

It’s an exciting view of the future, for sure. But what will it take to get us there? Pernilla says that the Internet of Senses is a scenario for how technology will develop over the next 10 years. “I’m sure we’ll have to revise the speed of the development in different parts – it’s a complete ecosystem of fast networks, devices, services and applications that needs to be rolled out and come into use. Additionally, we’ll need to feel safe in terms of privacy and IT security, both as consumers and companies. Only then will we accept that data is used in the ways that is necessary for this scenario.”

“50% of smartphone users globally believe that we’ll all be using AR glasses by 2025. It’ll probably be somewhat slower than that, but it’s clear that AR glasses are likely to be the gateway to the new immersive era. After that, we believe that the other senses will follow. Trial concepts for adding scent to a VR headset already exists, though if we want people to really use them, they’ll have to become very small and discrete.”

AR is clearly what will lead the way when more immersive experiences take off, starting with trendy AR glasses for consumers. There is no doubt that these technologies will bring new challenges for everyone working with branding and communication – and great possibilities for entirely new types of branded experiences.