A device for smelling smells in virtual reality

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For years, creators of virtual reality (VR) worlds have used our visual sense to shape universes to explore. We may soon be able to smell them, in the olfactory sense of the word. Swedish researchers have developed a sniffing machine synchronized with a VR headset. The most DIY enthusiasts can even do it themselves in a fablab.

This tool has been christened an “olfactometer” and the researchers managed to connect it directly to an HTC Vive virtual reality headset. The objective is to distribute scents when the context of a game suits it. To begin, the scientists tested their invention in a wine tasting game. The player is in a cellar, and is led to smell different glasses. The object of the game is to determine which wine he faces.

We hope that new technical possibilities will make scents play a bigger role in game development. says Jonas Olofsson, professor of psychology and head of the research project at Stockholm University, in a press release. The results of the team of scientists were published inInternational Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

Specifically, the olfactometer consists of four scent reservoirs. Mixing is achieved through 3D-printed valves that open and close to release the aroma blends in the desired amount. Two valves close each inlet pipe to the tanks to avoid unwanted leaks. A central fan constantly stirs the air to disperse the scents into the player’s nostrils. All this fits in a container of 10X15 cm. This one is attached to the HTC Vive controller and weighs 432 grams. At the software level, complex fluid mechanics calculations are performed. The idea is to faithfully reproduce the smell, of course, but not only.

Diagram and photo of the inner workings of the olfactometer. © Stockholm University

By calculating the amount of perfume dispensed, the machine is able to “ gives the impression of subtle modifications in scent intensity due to user movement and attenuation, even when the scent outlet is in a fixed position “, say the scientists. Scents can be activated automatically based on a certain action, such as raising the wine glass or by pressing a button from the player.

Games to train your sense of smell

The ability to switch from a passive sense of smell to a more active sense of smell in the game world paves the way for the development of entirely new game mechanics based on smells and movements, as well as player judgments », enthuses Simon Niedenthal, researcher in interaction and games at Malmö University. Innovative video games can really implement the concept. However, the potential uses of this olfactometer go beyond mere entertainment, according to the researchers.

Since sudden loss of smell has been a very common symptom of COVID-19there is also a growing awareness of the importance of an intact sense of smell to quality of life, appetite, personal relationships, health and safety. “, they remember. The olfactometer, combined with games, can prove to be an effective and fun way to train the sense of smell of people who have lost it due to illness for example. Indeed, this type of training already exists, but it is not unusual for people to not be able to be careful enough when faced with the boredom of exercise. The scientists imagine a use for the training of sommeliers or perfumers, because their tool makes it possible, according to them, to make mixtures with great finesse.

Finally, they claim that this technology is very accessible: all parts are made of 3D printed PETG plastic material and Ninjaflex, except the main tube which is anodized aluminum, for more efficient cleaning. The equipment needed to make this device can be found in a fairly well-furnished maker space, and we estimate the cost of materials to produce a copy of this device at $150. “.

All codes, plans and instructions for making this machine are freely available online. ” I hope that the fact that the designs and code are freely available as ‘open source’ will give game companies the opportunity to start creating new commercial scent training products using this new technology. says Jonas Olofsson. ” But it also means that equipment costs have come down a lot, making it accessible to more people. It is important for us concludes Simon Niedenthal.

Source: International Journal of Human-Computer Studies

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