I’d heard of the Internet of Things, the Internet of Money, the Internet of Information, the Internet of Energy, the Internet of…well, you name it — but while watching a short report about 5G technology, I came across The Internet of Skills.
Using some examples and going back to basics, below is my attempt to understand and explain a bit more about what I believe is the future of education, training and any kind of skill sharing.
In a nutshell, the Internet of Skills enables you to transfer your expertise, irrespective of distance/location, in real time, using robotics and haptic feedback (haptic meaning recreating the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user, designed to trick our skin into thinking that what we’re touching in the virtual world is real). Essentially, it is a way to digitise skills.
The primary aim of the Internet of Skills is to extend abilities, understanding, and knowledge. Knowledge that can be shared immediately and openly, breaking down economic barriers and geographic boundaries. By sending data both ways (from source to destination), the remote operation allows for tactile, visual and sound data to be shared. Training, learning and understanding that was only available in certain places, would be accessible to anybody.
So how would this work?
Learning the piano
We can now digitise piano skills and remotely teach people how to master the instrument.
To start off, the expert/teacher would put on a haptic glove — this glove is tracking and recording every single movement of their hand and fingers, which is stored on a standardised skills database.
An aspiring pianist can then download this real-time onto an exoskeleton, which will gently pressurise the hands and the joints, moving them softly at the beginning, and nudging the body into the right shape, until the muscle memory is trained. And they don’t even have to be at a piano — they can practice their muscle memory anywhere they want.
The concept is similar — a surgeon wears the glove, which records their key movements, which are put on a surgery database. This can be downloaded by students anywhere in the world, or, the movements can be used real-time to control a robotic arm.
Sensors on the tip of a robotic arm transfer tactile data back to the doctor operating remotely, through the use of a haptic glove, which in turn controls the movements of the robot. Along with a virtual reality headset, the doctor can be totally immersed in an operation performed by telepresence. In addition to the sensors and virtual immersion, a 360 camera can provide a live feed and transfer of visual data to the doctor.
Imagine using this during times of crisis, where doctors could have treated a patient thousands of miles away, especially in remote areas where medical skill is lacking, by linking the doctor and patient in a way never before possible.
What’s enabling this?
The lighting speed of 5G is essential to make the Internet of Skills technology work — its short latency (the time delay between the cause and the effect of some physical change in the system being observed) means we have an instant action reaction.
It’s a big jump from 3G & 4G — 5G is 100x more powerful than 4G (imagine a 2 hour movie would take 26 hours to download on 3G, 6 mins on 4G, and around 3 seconds on 5G). The response times on 5G are 400x faster than a blink of an eye (1 millisecond). It’s actually the first time that the network will work faster than our minds.
The idea of the Internet of Skills is not entirely new — affordable Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) devices with the latest haptic technologies allow users to experience motion, forces, shapes and textures with increasing levels of realism. However, without the wide availability of 5G, the current systems lack the audio, visual and haptic technology performance and devices, together with machine interaction methods, which would provide a fully immersive Internet of Skills system.
Even with 5G (soon to be) becoming more mainstream, Mischa Dohler, a professor of wireless communications at King’s College London, says it might take another decade for the “Internet of Skills” to be fully functional — there are still several security risks and best practices that this technology needs to get right, “because the moment you start moving things on the other side of the planet, you can do a lot of harm,” according to Dohler.
Regardless, enabling any human being to teach, be taught and execute actions remotely is the next step in the connected world. We use digital today to find and negotiate jobs (think LinkedIn), but then to actually complete the work, many of us still need to travel to our workplace (especially in specialist fields such as medicine or manufacturing) — we should be able to digitise this too. As an enabler for remote skillset delivery, The Internet of Skills will democratise labour globally, the same way as the Internet has democratised knowledge.