At #AWE2021 we stop to smell the virtual roses, and it doesn’t feel weird.
Over the years I’ve demoed a lot of technologies aiming to make experiences more immersive by involving more of our senses such as sound, touch, and smell.
But so far, most of the products adding scent to VR have felt gimmicky, and often looked funny, if not downright scary.
This is why I was really happy that when I visited the OVR Technology Booth at AWE, donning the modified headset and diving straight into the demo took less than a minute.Most of the products I tried adding scent to VR have felt gimmicky, and often looked funny, if not downright scary Click To Tweet
The head-mounted display (one of Pico Interactive’s Neo family of headsets) was equipped with OVR Technology’s ION device and scent cartridges. Maybe it was because I have now become used to wearing a mask because of COVID safety, but the additional piece over my nose and mouth did not feel stifling, and I could still smell the scents through the mask (I’m told they would be stronger without it, which makes sense).
Donning the modified headset and diving straight into the demo took less than a minute Click To Tweet
I was first presented with several virtual red roses set in a tray of earth. I reached out and easily picked one up; the physics were satisfyingly responsive and controls very simple, which only required pressing the side trigger on the hand controller to grab the various scented objects.
The fresh rose smell hit me – not perfume-like at all, very natural as I would expect from the real thing. As I held it, I was able to turn it around and smell the other end of the stem which had an earthy smell.
This really feels like a big missing piece of the puzzle which brings us closer to the promise of the multi-sensory metaverse Click To Tweet
The next environment presented me with a campfire, with its accompanying distinctive smell. I then picked up a marshmallow on a stick and got that smell. The interesting thing was how holding the marshmallow over the virtual fire made that smell develop into a toasted marshmallow scent.
I then went on to demo some of the environments of their newly launched INHALE Wellness Platform, which offer scent-focused nature scenes. Although I didn’t have time to do the guided meditations inspired by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, I did find the simple actions of handling the floating scented globes, moving them around, and looking into their flickering lights inherently relaxing.
“Smell, or olfaction, is the only sense directly connected to the limbic system of the brain, where our memories and emotions live; it also plays a critical role in human motivation and behavior,” explains Aaron Wisniewski, CEO and co-founder of OVR Technology
The Future of Digital Therapy?
The technology can intelligently create dozens of olfactory experiences using a range of scents originally created in the company’s Vermont lab. The scents included with INHALE include tropical beach, fresh cut grass, northern pine forest, Atlantic ocean breeze, wildflower fields, and lush woodlands. The platform places you in a virtual environment simulating a relaxing and tranquil setting. As users interact with their surroundings, corresponding scents are precisely released, mimicking scent as it arises and dissipates in the real world.
The technology can intelligently create dozens of olfactory experiences using a range of scents Click To Tweet
Studies show that olfactory-visual stimulation positively affects emotion and memory, which can be an important aide and support in the process of mitigating the negative effects of psychological and social issues, such as stress, to enhance wellbeing.
“Olfactory virtual reality can provide a nurturing and effective approach to therapy that supports wellbeing,” said Dr. David Låg Tomasi, DSc HC, PhD, EdD- PhD, MA, MCS, AAT, psychotherapist and research director of inpatient psychiatry at the University of Vermont Medical Center, who recently partnered with OVR Technology on a study investigating olfaction-visual stimulation delivered via virtual reality to patients living with mental health conditions.
The company, which is based in Burlington, Vermont were finalists in AWE’s 2021 Auggie Awards and works with a range of partners in healthcare, professional training, and education, including Ascendant Rehab, a substance use disorder treatment center in Manhattan.
“OVR is a first-of-its-kind tool that helps our patients engage in relaxation. A big issue is when patients want to leave our program against medical advice due to an intense craving. INHALE helps disrupt the fight-or-flight response and provides the relief patients need to continue engaging with their therapy,” says the Ascendant Center’s Executive Director Charlotte Bareiss.
It will certainly be interesting to see what content and experiences evolve to take advantage of this new technology as it becomes more accessible, but this really feels like a big missing piece of the puzzle which brings us closer to the promise of the multi-sensory metaverse.
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Alice Bonasio is a XR and Digital Transformation Consultant and Tech Trends’ Editor in Chief. She also regularly writes for Fast Company, Ars Technica, Quartz, Wired and others. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow @alicebonasio on Twitter.