Smells have always been difficult to recreate in virtual reality, but researchers may have found a solution: portable scent 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 portable device that is attached to the skin directly under the nose. The other is a soft mask. (You can see both demos 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 approximately 1.44 seconds to release the desired scent in a localized area.
In all, 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 smelt a durian fruithas been described as raw sewage, rotting meat, and used gym socks).
While current VR headsets can simulate sight, sound, and touch, virtual worlds are still largely odorless. Part of that is because there’s no fancy way to add scents to bulky VR rigs. Ideally, the researchers say their version of this technology could be used to create a more immersive user experience in 4D video games or movies, as well as virtual teaching environments. They also suggested ideas such as the use of scents as an alternative communication message or to trigger memories.
Of course, this is just one way to incorporate scent into VR. Other companies are tackling the problem, too, with some creating headphone cartridges while others try to add aromas to neck bands. Either way, it will be a while before anyone can stop and smell the virtual roses.