Man and machine: Digitally connected

Publish Date

11 APR 2021


Kai Beckmann


Even though machines are becoming increasingly intelligent, human operation is still essential. The interfaces for this are becoming more and more sophisticated. Touchscreens and voice control have a firm place in our everyday lives today.

With our materials and solutions for the semiconductor and display industries, we at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany are making a significant contribution to ensuring that interactions between people and machines are increasingly intuitive.

From mechanical lever to AR glasses

The way people operate machines has changed tremendously over the past 250 years. The steam engines and mechanical looms that conquered the world in the course of industrialization from the 18th century onwards were still operated by people using levers and cranks. With the onset of electrification in the late 19th century, mechanical controls were gradually replaced by electric knobs and buttons. In the 1980s, the first EDP systems were finally used in factories and the control of machines was visualized on screens for the first time.

Today, displays even comprehend touch and can translate it into digital commands. Due to the triumphant advance of smartphones, touch screens have become an indispensable part of our everyday lives. Devices and their operation are adapting more and more to people. Speaking of augmented and virtual reality – AR glasses are now being used in assembly line work, for example, so that employees no longer have to rummage through manuals to study production processes. The next assembly step is literally “before your very eyes” on the display.

According to a study by consulting firm pwc, more than 23 million people worldwide will be working with the support of AR or VR by 2030. In Germany alone, this will apply to around 400,000 people. We at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany are also already using AR in production and are testing the application in our PH85 pharmaceutical packaging plant, for example.

“Hey Siri” instead of pressing a button

Voice control is another technology that has significantly changed the interaction between humans and machines in recent years. For many, asking virtual assistants for the weather or letting them play our favorite music is almost second nature these days. Virtual assistants such as Siri from Apple, Cortana from Google or Alexa from Amazon are already regularly used by 45% of Germans according to a Postbank Digital Study.

Voice control is also being used more and more in production plants. According to a study by international technology company Zebra Technologies, 51% of companies surveyed plan to expand their use of voice technologies by 2022. Voice control offers advantages in industry, for example, when a safety distance from the machine must be maintained and workers cannot therefore enter commands directly at the machine.

For smartphones, the haptic feel is crucial and a display in production should also be robust and durable. At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we not only develop solutions for waveguides and for OLED technology, but are also the market leader in liquid crystal-based Displays, which still make up the majority of today's screens. 

However, with our solutions for the semiconductor industry, we are also helping to make machine operation more and more intuitive. After all, our semiconductor materials are an important basis for high-performance chips, on which AI technology in particular depends. As advances in Artificial Intelligence continue, operating by voice control or interacting with robots will feel more and more like we are interacting with other humans, not machines.

Moreover, computers are now even learning to read our thoughts. So-called brain-computer interfaces enable direct information transfer between an organic brain and a technical circuit. This operating technology can be used for medical purposes, for example, to enable paralyzed persons to control prostheses intuitively.

At Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, we are proud to make an important contribution to all these innovations with our materials and expertise. Because regardless of whether it's a touchscreen, voice control or a robot – technology should always adapt to people and not the other way around. This is exactly what we contribute to with our solutions.

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