THE WORKSTATION OF THE FUTURE will enable engineers and designers to work from systems powered by the data centre, PC maker Dell has claimed, liberating desktop machines to take completely different forms and eliminating the need for a keyboard and mouse.
"Once we move all the power from the front end to the back end, we can start to think completely differently about the interface that users, engineers or designers have with a system," Dell executive director of Dell Precision Workstations Andy Rhodes said at the Develop3D Live conference at Warwick University on Tuesday.
Dell has developed a mock-up, which is shown in a video below, of what the device might look like in the future. Rhodes said it is all about panels, screens and glass, because the power provided on the back end means the design is unbounded by thermals and space.
To develop the workstation of the future, Dell has been focusing on two things, Rhodes said.
"The first thing is this whole view of dynamic performance," Rhodes expalined. "So if you need to use a couple of cores and you're in a certain part of the workflow and powered out, it could be as simple as dialing something up and requesting more cores or more graphics power, and all of the applications can take care of that dynamically."
The second focus is the user interface of the workstation, which for Dell will primarily be made of glass.
"The glass interface means you've got many ways to experience and view [the user interface (UI)]. You can take away this whole concept of keyboard and mouse [that] is becoming somewhat antiquated," he said.
"My kids especially won't be using keyboards by the time they get to college. They've grown up with non-tactile keys on tablets, and also the application has a way of influencing. Different parts of your workflow require different user interfaces, so if you take out the keyboard and replace it with glass you can customise each of your applications to the user interface."
Dell's workstation of the future mock-up is also looking at changing the way users interact with the workspace in front of them, as it claims many designers, developers and engineers are constantly demanding more space to do work.
"Desk space is constrained, so we've started to think different about the work spaces someone uses. If you think most people use a desk, and this whole notion of reaching forward is somewhat unnatural for touchscreen in a lot of devices, so we are focusing on 'how do we use the area in front of a use to expand the workspace and make it more productive?'" Rhodes added.
The mock-up Dell has devised to approach this conundrum is through projection. For example, if applications are projected onto a designer's workspace via glass, they can be manipulated to reflect individual needs and allow easier and quicker access to the relevant data on specific projects.
"[Through projection] you can start to design a completely different workspace and you can start to build in certain visual clues and contextual awareness on the desk so that you can just blow this keyboard and mouse paradigm," Rhodes explained, suggesting that users can then start to develop specific applications that they use, and bring in everyday objects for the application that will work seamlessly and tailored to their specific needs.
"This is all about saving time and speeding up projects by allowing you to see and access multiple data points, turn it up turn it down, bring in smart objects, bring up certain files or errors in an app associated with that project."
Another area of experimentation Dell has been focusing on as part of its future workstations project is smart surfaces, trialing the idea of interacting with a surface as another way for designers, for example, to demonstrate and preview concepts and present them to potential customers.
Another experimentation area for Dell is the notion of 3D presentation and working in 3D.
"Google Glass is fast developing, and so, what if we could experience all of our designs in 3D from day one? How could that change the way we speak to and engage with customers, and buy your customers into a concept very quickly to go through development cycles?" Rhodes asked.
The video Rhodes showed during his presentation, which we filmed and is embedded below, shows how these concepts can be brought together.
"The workstation of the future we see is a blend of all the above things," Rhodes said, adding that "the whole computing power will move, over time, from under the desk or in the hands and into the data centre".
"It doesn't mean that the PC, laptop or workstation is dead, they'll be comprehensive in many different ways, and every environment is different, but more and more will shift to this cloud or this private data centre through the development of the virtual technologies. That then frees you up to change the user interface."
Another big trend Dell anticipates with the workstation of the future is "the notion of democratising access", where the firm is starting to develop thinner, lighter and smaller workstations, but also bringing the price point way down, as it has attempted to do with its latest M3800 workstation, which weighs under 2kg and boasts integrated graphics for under £800. µ