Immersive Compute, Virtually Everywhere

Meander three to five years into the future and consider how a pupil, doctor, and manufacturing supervisor might use ubiquitous, immersive technology to break out of traditional constraints to do things differently, if not altogether better.

By Martin Sawtell, software lad for the CTO Office, and Dave Graham, director, Thought Leadership & Emerging Technologies, Dell Technologies

Imagine, if you will, the following scene: a family is getting ready for the children’s school day. Each child sits in their chair around the table, puts on their headset, and is immediately immersed in a classroom with all their friends.

The distinction between reality and a virtual projection of a classroom moves to the corners of their conscious; the teacher is at the front and it truly “feels” like a real classroom. By turning their head, the child is able to see their classmates sitting beside them. By raising their hand, they can be called on to answer questions posed by their teacher. In every interaction, they have the sensation of being physically present in their classroom.

Today, consumers are still struggling with poor connectivity. Three or more people in a household, simultaneously joining video work or home-learning calls are gobbling up bandwidth. But the home of the future might have 5G connectivity and a shared GPU resource (graphics processing unit) in the garage next to the household battery delivering immersive, low-latency frames to all their devices. By being located close to the point of usage, the family’s experience with immersive media is vastly improved. As it could be for those in the immediate area. The centralized location of these resources enables the GPU server to be shared (or rented) on-demand.

While this level of immersive reality is removed from where we are in 2021, it’s not hard to imagine that this revolution is coming within a shorter period of time than we might have anticipated. Recently, we’ve seen advances in positional audio that submerses the hearer in their experiences further than ever before. Visual systems now project with crystal clear imagery to enable life-like experiences from the comfort of the home. These are just a few examples of the rapid innovation surrounding immersive technologies enabled by pervasive computing.

Learn more about how this technology is helping to enhance experiences for individuals everywhere in this podcast:

Immersive Computing in Manufacturing

Now consider the following manufacturing scenario: visiting a factory floor, a shift supervisor becomes aware of a fault in one of the many production lines through a gentle haptic buzz on her arm. She taps the side of her safety goggles and a schematic of the assembly line appears in front of her with the fault area pulsing in red. As she navigates to the assembly area, an overlay of the mechanical device is displayed in front of her as another shift worker repairs the machine, each receiving their own perspective on the device to be repaired. Once the repairs are complete and the machine returned to nominal operation, the supervisor clears the trouble ticket with just an eye movement.

Until recently, graphics-intensive compute was relegated to data centers and specialized machines operating at a distance from their intended user. The reliance on purpose-built computing meant that consumers needed to purchase application-specific hardware in order to realize this potential. With the shift in both infrastructure and applications to a more edge-focused model, this locus of compute and experience has now moved even closer to its ultimate consumer and generator.

The oil in the machine is the new connectivity that 5G provides, blurring the line between telecommunications and traditional infrastructure. Infrastructure is no longer tied to towers or buried lines. Instead, resources are used in situ, where they can be located as close to the creators and consumers as possible. They can be purpose-built or packaged differently to fit the end-user as we noted in the previous example about a GPU being positioned next to the house battery. This, along with containerization and compute as a service, means that accessing compute services will be faster and more seamless than ever before.

By combining localized compute power with the enhanced functionality of extended reality applications—a combination of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and other immersive environments yet to be created—and then reducing the last-mile constraints of aging services, latency, and GPU loads, consumers can experience data anywhere, free of the burdensome computing form factors that used to tie them to home or office desks.

Immersive Computing in Healthcare

Because extended reality enables us to go where we cannot physically or safely go, and see what we cannot humanly see, this emerging technology is particularly efficacious in healthcare. In fact, 86 percent of IT decision-makers polled by Dell Technologies believe that within 3-5 years, clinicians will use VR/AR to see inside the human body, and then use this view to walk patients through their surgical/medical plan. The pandemic has only underscored its value and manifold use cases: 77 percent of respondents accelerated their VR/AR plans due to the pandemic.

For our final future-gazing scenario–considering what we know about treating patients with COVID-19—imagine how a doctor might treat a patient during a pandemic.

After donning the necessary personal protective equipment, the doctor slips on an AR headset, which has a single arm hanging off to one side holding a screen and outward-facing camera, as well as speakers and microphone. She activates the scanner with the HMD voice assistant and scans the QR code on the patient’s bed, bringing up live and historical biometric data, as well as nurse’s notes from the Electronic Health Records (EHR) database. Given the patient is almost recovered, she makes a video call and a remote healthcare professional clears the patient for release.

Aspects or functions of the technology already exist. They just need to be deployed at scale. Rather than needing to touch or manipulate instruments, staff in hospitals can reduce the risk of disease by using artificial intelligence voice assistants to access live medical data across multiple devices. Rather than expending valuable resources trying to present an immersive, all-encompassing environment, think about what’s available to you, and useful, in the short-term. The task at hand may just require plain text on a screen and access to assistance in an immediate way. Full integration with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and EHR systems can be fully implemented, and massive efficiency boosts realized, with current technology.

Computing Without Limits and Life Without Borders

Removing the need to be shackled to a screen and moving to agile, edge, and application-centric processing might seem like the promise of science fiction. However, each of the three examples provided is now within the realms of the possible. With applications, technology and services, coupled with data to create a complete, enveloping experience, we can start to realize the incredible potential of tapping into compute that’s literally all around us.

That potential includes no longer being constrained to a place or line of sight. Our experiences can exceed what we see by augmenting our reality with more—more data, more insights, more possibilities. This is made possible by rethinking reality, shaping potential into probability, and using data as true social agency.