Virtual reality has become an increasingly popular fixture in the popular imagination. Once thought of a sci-fi experience, the use of technology to deliver virtual sensory experiences has become all too common. Especially when we look at tools and programs like Meta’s Metaverse, it’s clear that virtual reality experiences have evolved to the point where someone can step away from the physical world and become entirely immersed in the digital world.
Like with other types of virtual reality experiences, including video games, however, virtual reality tools are focused on one particular sensory experience: what we can see. Now, researchers at Stockholm University and Malmö University have developed a way to add an additional sensory experience to the virtual reality environment: the sense of smell. This new experience, work funded by the Marianna and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, is described in a recent article published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.
The new virtual reality experience uses a scent machine that is controlled by a central computer. To test their scent machine, researchers developed a game that people can participate in. The game focuses on a wine smelling experience; participants are led to a wine cellar where they can pick up different glasses of wine and try to make guesses about the smells of each wine. The scent machine is triggered when a participant grabs a glass and lifts it up to smell it.
The game can also increase its difficulty, providing users with new, challenging scents the further into the game they get, much like a traditional game gets harder the further into it you get. This approach could be used for people with sensitive noses, and it could also even be used to train wine tasters in the future.
The team hopes that the use of scent in virtual reality could also have medical uses as well. Specifically, researchers want to explore the use of scent-based virtual reality for smell training, which is often used to treat people who lose their smell after recovering from viruses or colds. Because losing the sense of smell was common with people who had COVID, they hope this new approach could help that patient population as well.
This new approach to smell in virtual reality experiences opens the door for developers to incorporate new sensory experiences into games and the virtual reality environment.