Towards the Tactile Internet of Musical Things

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You may have heard a new term recently: “The Tactile Internet” [1]. The Tactile Internet is the next evolution in the Internet of Things, where humans and machines can interact in real time, and with a very low latency. Low latency capabilities will enable new applications. The Tactile Internet will allow people to interact with remote environments and in real-time.

The enabling technology is 5G. The 5G standard defines a new class of service called “Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication” (URLLC). URLLC not only increases uplink speed, but also eliminates some of the handshakes necessary for an endpoint to send some data up to the network [2]. The end result is that applications can inject data into the network at a much reduced latency.

One of the prototypical applications being touted as a possibility for 5G is Remote Surgery [3]. The number required  for such a capability to be reasonable is on the order of 20 milliseconds. A latency of 20 milliseconds also makes real-time remote musical performance possible. The idea has been around for years, and is known as “Telematic Performance” [4].  Such performances can make use of real-time Audio, but they can also be accomplished by sending MIDI information between remote musical instruments. Playing a piano duet with a friend across a network using MIDI is an example of telematic performance.
In “A Case for Network Musical Performance” in 2001, the authors tested the hypothesis that musicians could accommodate latency. They created a keyboard instrument whose MIDI information was reflected off of a remote computer (Berkeley to Caltech). The measured latency was around 26 mS. What they found was that a musician could compensate for this much latency by adjusting their performance.
Many of the advances in the recent internet have increased throughput (bandwidth) at the expense of latency. We definitely have faster speeds, but delays are noticeable.  Have you noticed audio “lag” on Google Hangouts? Chances are, that you have. The immediacy of the old analog land-line has been replaced by highly compressed audio with greater latency.
Perhaps the next frontier is low latency. Low latency and 5G can enable a truly Tactile Internet of Things. Imagine a connected internet where realtime remote MIDI collaboration might be possible. Call it the Internet of Musical Things.


[5] A case for network musical performance. John Lazzaro. John Wawrzynek.
NOSSDAV ’01.  Proceedings of the 11th international workshop on Network and operating systems support for digital audio and video
Pages 157-166

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