Smells have always been hard to recreate in virtual reality, but researchers may have figured out a solution: wearable odor generators.
Researchers from Beihang University and the City University of Hong Kong detailed two types of device formats in a paper published today in Nature Communications. The first type is a wearable that attaches to the skin directly under the nose. The other is a soft mask. (You can see both demoed in the videos below.) The former can create two scents while the latter can create up to nine scents. Both generators contain scented wax that can be heated in about 1.44 seconds to release the desired scent in a localized area.
Altogether, the researchers were able to generate 30 different scents, including rosemary, mojito, pancake, pineapple, and ginger. The researchers must also have a twisted sense of humor, as durian was among the scents listed. (If you’ve never smelled a durian fruit, it’s been described as raw sewage, rotting flesh, and used gym socks.)
While current VR headsets can simulate vision, sound, and touch, virtual worlds are still largely odorless. Part of that is because there isn’t an elegant way to add scents to bulky VR gear. Ideally, the researchers say their version of this tech could be used to create a more immersive user experience in video games or 4D films as well as virtual teaching environments. They also suggested ideas such as using scents as an alternative communication message or to trigger memories.
Of course, this is just one take on how to incorporate scent into VR. Other companies are also tackling the problem, with some creating cartridges for headsets while others attempt to add scents to neckbands. Either way, it’ll be a while before anyone can truly stop and smell the virtual roses.