Are our workplaces ready for high impact – low touch technologies?


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By Schiavello

Behaviours previously confined to science fiction are now contemporary design considerations as new technologies appear on the market – providing workers with dynamic and new ways of working. Consider for a moment, today’s technologies are on track to be four times more powerful by 2020. This exponential increase of computational power will continue to create seismic shifts in workplace behaviour. New interfaces are enabling alternative ways to control computers, generate and navigate digital content and, share experiences. These intuitive and immersive ways of interacting with digital work tools promise greater connectedness, faster processing, healthier postures and seamless transitions between work modes. To harness this, organisations will need to consider how to provide workers with secure virtual identities, acoustic and visual comfort and all space ergonomics to prepare for the time when the humble keyboard and mouse are replaced by the human body.

Whilst mobile and network computing have liberated workers from their desks, low touch technologies are the next wave of innovation that will revolutionise the relationship between the worker and their work space. Low touch

interfaces require large amounts of processing power and rely on a different kind of intimate connection between the user and their digital device. Mouse and keyboard clicks are replaced by human centred inputs such as voice commands, hand gestures, finger taps and facial recognition. Intel are promoting their ‘perceptual computing’ technologies which can provide highly personalised real time experiences through identity recognition and context awareness. Perceptual computing can be applied throughout the workplace to perform a range of intuitive functions such as autonomous desk height adjustment and touch free authentication.

Exponential growth in computational power and access to super fast internet, combined with machine intelligence will make voice recognition an effective workplace tool. Communication platforms such as Skype™ now provide real-time translation services that diminish global language barriers and support the emergence of gesture control by freeing both hands from the keyboard.  Gesture control is also evolving to be more than motion tracking. Ultra sonic air interfaces like those from Ultrahaptics™, create tactile feedback in mid air which means digital content can be felt not just viewed. Virtual objects like icons and CAD models can be controlled through hand gestures simultaneously supported by waves of air to create the sensation of physical touch. This tactile and immersive experience is a pre-curser to holographic interfaces and is described by technology company Real View as ‘image intimacy™’.

The sound of clicking keyboards may eventually disappear from the office cacophony, however; there are a number of design considerations that need to accompany these new ways of working. Workers will need to feel that their personal bio metric information is secure and that they are in control of their digital identity. Full body interfaces will enable more freedom of movement, giving workers the ability to work in seated and standing positions, creating greater flexibility.  Ergonomic factors will still play a critical role in workstation design as workers become more aware of healthy ‘display related’ postures. Workers will seek greater control over their visual and acoustic comfort, especially in open environments with large format interactive displays and voice recognition capabilities. The next generation of workspace design will need to reflect the kind of real-time responsiveness that digital platforms deliver and, accommodate the dynamic interfaces used to control digital work tools.