Virtual Reality May Include Smell With New Gaming Tech

Olfactory meter (Credit: Jens Lasthein/Stockholm University)

The new console can not only turn your eyes into virtual reality, but also your nose into virtual reality.

Developers at Stockholm University and Malmö University say they have developed a scent machine, or “olfactometer,” that can smell in virtual reality environments.

The research was recently published in the International Journal of Human Computing Research.

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The researchers tested the new technology in a “wine test game,” in which users smell wine in a virtual wine cellar and earn points if they guess correctly about different aromas.

The console has four different valves, each connected to a channel. The fan that draws air into the duct is located in the middle. With the help of a computer, players can control four channels that can be opened to varying degrees and provide different scent mixes.

“The possibility of smell shifting from passive to more active in the gaming world paves the way for the development of entirely new smell game mechanics based on player actions and judgments,” Simon Niedenthal, a researcher at the University of Interaction and Gaming at Malmö University, said in a press release .

But the researchers hope the technology can be used for other purposes.

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“For example, for those who have lost their sense of smell after COVID-19 or other causes, new technologies may mean the opportunity to regain their sense of smell with the help of game-based training,” said research team lead by Jonas Olofsson.

Virtual reality — computer-generated 3D environments ranging from stunningly realistic to abstract wonderland — has been on the cusp of widespread acceptance for years, but never really took off.

The pandemic should be a big moment for VR, providing an escape for millions of locked homes. Special headsets and gloves allow people to interact with the 360-degree 3D environment, which seems perfect for those trapped indoors. But consumers prefer simpler, easier-to-use technologies like Zoom, Nintendo’s Switch, and streaming services like Netflix.

But consumers are hesitant about the cost of the hardware: A headset costs hundreds of dollars, the same price as a video game console that supports hundreds of games. Early VR headsets also lacked the games or services that made them seem indispensable, such as a consumer PC’s web browser or the iPhone’s mobile internet. The headset’s weight, slow software, and sometimes nausea-inducing propensity also kept VR from taking off.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.

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