Scientists are advancing virtual reality technology to allow users to not only see 3D augmented environments — but to smell them, too.
Engineers from China’s Beihang University and the City University of Hong Kong have created a futuristic headset that can emit 30 different odors to its wearer, including coffee, mojito, pancakes and ethanol, according to a paper published Tuesday.
The project aims to launch the experience of VR users by expanding their range of haptics, or the technology that can create physical experiences during gameplay.
“Recent human-machine interfaces highlight the importance of human sensation feedback, including vision, audio, and haptics, associating with wide applications in entertainment, medical treatment, and VR/AR,” the team wrote in the study.
“Olfaction plays a significant role in human perceptual experiences, which is equally important to visual and auditory feedbacks.”
The team’s ground-breaking technology uses small paraffin wax pads that are infused with scents that are heated by an attached electrode to release the scent.
The wireless odor generators, referenced as OGs throughout the paper, can be placed directly underneath the user’s nose.
Another design proposed by the team is intended to be worn like a face mask.
The new design aims to replace the “clumsy” mechanics of existing olfaction-generating technology that relies on “bulky bottles of liquid perfumes,” wires and dull smell-generation functions, the paper claims.
The study proposes that the OGs could be used beyond augmented VR gaming, including to enhance the experience of remote learning classrooms.
The engineers also proposed that the device could be used to help amnesic patients recall lost memories.
Additionally, the team said “some odors generated from the olfactory interface system could be used for smoothing users’ emotions.”
“As odors could arouse human emotion by leading to the recall of emotional memories, the olfactory interface could be adopted for smoothing users’ depressed mood from the stress.
According to the study, the engineers aim to shrink the overall size of the OGs to extend the longevity of the scents and to limit the delay time when users switch between the odors.