LAS VEGAS: Smelling imaginary roses, learning fighter jet maneuvers in augmented reality or treating Alzheimer’s with virtual reality: at the Las Vegas tech fair, startups are competing for ideas to build the metaverse, convinced they will to be increasingly immersed in the virtual.
The 2023 edition of CES, which ends on Sunday, was marked by the display of olfactory technologies.
OVR has developed an accessory that attaches under virtual reality (VR) headsets to dispense scents. The user can thus smell the smoke of a virtual fire and smell a roasted marshmallow.
Smell is central to the metaverse, according to Sarah Socia, vice president of OVR, because it’s “the only sense directly connected to the limbic system, a part of the brain crucial to memory and emotion.”
The startup from the US state of Vermont presented a prototype framework that also includes chemical fragrance cartridges and allows you to create perfumes through a mobile app.
The user links them to videos to then share with friends – if they own the quirky headband.
Aromajoin, a Japanese competitor, is also betting on the adoption of such devices.
“Most people don’t know what they need. It’s like before smartphones, we didn’t know what place they would occupy in our lives,” said SeonHoon Cho of Aromajoin.
A comparison echoed by many metaverse startups facing wary observers.
In late 2021, Facebook renamed itself Meta to focus on “the future of the Internet,” as described by Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of the social networking giant.
But last year Meta’s profits fell due to the economic crisis and the tens of billions of dollars invested in this direction attracted an avalanche of criticism.
“These days, the metaverse is greeted with skepticism. And it’s true that the term remains quite speculative,” admits Steve Koenig, vice president of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which organizes the show.
“But the metaverse is starting to have substance, we can see different applications. It’s like in the early 90s, when we were talking about the Internet without being able to imagine everything that was going to happen.”
For AjnaLens, virtual immersion represents the solution to the problem of unemployment and lack of skilled labor.
The Indian company produces AjnaXR, a mixed reality headset (virtual and augmented), lighter and more functional than existing models, so that users can wear it for hours.
Its customers, industrialists, use it to teach workers how to handle various tools (welding, painting, etc.), connected to controllers, or manipulated virtually using haptic handles (sensational feedback).
“VR has a multiple impact on the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain where you store things for life,” says Pankaj Raut, co-founder of Ajnalens.
“It’s like when you learn to ride a bike, you never forget it.”
SocialDream also feels the need to create its own mixed reality headset, tailored to its immersive videos to stimulate the memory of Alzheimer’s patients.
“Dreamsense is not a helmet, the image is projected onto a bubble”, describes Thierry Gricourt, the founder of the French start-up. “The face is not narrow, there are no lenses that hurt the eyes, it is easier to clean and the sensors measure emotions in real time.”
The mainstream headsets, those of Oculus (Meta) and Vive (HTC) as well as accessories like haptic suits were originally created for video games.
CTA expects 3.1 million VR headsets sold in the United States this year (+20% compared to 2022) and more than 380,000 augmented reality or “AR” glasses (+100%).
According to an Accenture survey of 9,000 people, more than half of consumers “want to be active metaverse users” as soon as possible.
But in the near future, with the exception of video games, professional uses seem to spread faster.
Red 6 is currently testing its augmented reality system to train fighter pilots in aerial maneuvers (refueling, combat, etc.).
They see other aircraft, friend or foe, on their sights. Therefore, training costs much less, pollutes less and is less dangerous.
“Metaverse is a bit of a solution in search of problems. We’ve done the opposite. We’ve found a use case for technology that solves core problems,” said Daniel Robinson, founder of Red 6.