Does AR give us a sixth sense?

Augmented Reality (AR) is the mixture of the real world and virtual worlds so that one understands the other.

Noble Ackerson
4 min readJan 29, 2019

The AR medium affords us a deeper connection with the real world giving context without breaking its laws. What makes AR a powerful medium is that it supersedes our visual senses. Touch, hearing, and even smell can technically be augmented as well.

In this thought experiment, I’m going to focus on how spatial computing experiences with the aid of sensors and or gesture gives us senses we never had until now.

Fully immersive experiences like Virtual Reality, with the aid of haptics or motion platforms go even further than to introduce new senses. Fully embodied experiences through VR often overpowers our existing senses. Take, for example, academic research that shows VR can help anxiety during the preoperative preparation and increase comfort during the intraoperative and postoperative processes. Perioperative routines in VR have been shown to reduce patient and hospital costs.


Basically, this new sense we gain, we’ll call it “the force” is so powerful, it can cripple our other senses. Use this power wisely, Padawan.

Yes, spatial computing gives humans new senses

We know that when designed right, Augmented Reality can break the laws of the real world. Truly immersive AR provides blended perspectives that can’t be possible anywhere else. As spatial computing and digital information blend, users of wearable computers gain a new sense to act in addition to the five traditional senses.

Our digital age has gone through an evolution: punch cards, keyboards, joysticks, mice, and touch and gestures with our fingers.

Realizing our new 6th Sense

Today AR is experienced through mobile devices. I’d argue that gestures and taps through the mobile screen still highlight this new sixth sense. This demonstrated by a popular AR experience from IKEA.

Image credit

The IKEA Place app allows you to place furniture in your space. This saves customers from the pain of guessing how a piece of furniture fits and looks in their space. If you are interacting with this furniture, with Hololens or Magic Leap you are not using touch, to interact, you’re now a Jedi using the “force” to right-size or move a virtual couch into the corner of your room.

This “force” is a superpower we did not previously have.

Our 6th Sense won’t only be realized through virtual objects


The Federal Communications Commission in the U.S. recently approved radar-based gesture control technology for mobile and wearable devices.

This gesture control tech dubbed Project Soli was announced at Google I/O in 2015 and was approved by the FCC for use in the 57 to 64 GHz frequency band. It allows the wearer of a compatible device to interact without touch.

This technology is being incubated in Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. ATAP is a skunkworks group within Google founded by the former head of DARPA, Regina Dugan.

Now let’s think about our five senses, the faculties of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Notice something missing? The “force”.

Yes, folks, humans have already evolved through the advent of these technologies. We have six senses and this superpower overpowers other senses.

Somewhat related, there are quite a few wearables, virtual, and augmented reality device or software companies out there named sixth sense so this concept may be broadly shared by other wonks. For example, during the mid-90’s Steve Mann, one of the pioneers of wearable computing and Augmented Reality, spun off an MIT Media-lab technology called Sixth-Sense. The technology combined a pocket-sized projector, a mirror, cell phone, and a camera to create an augmented reality experience you can carry around on your person. The following Ted Talk is worth checking out:



Noble Ackerson

Former Google Developer Expert for Product Strategy, Public Speaker 🌐