A face mask designed to enhance virtual reality can give off various smells to make the simulation more immersive. It could even be used to mimic the scent of absent loved ones during virtual encounters, its creators say.
The senses of sight, hearing, and touch are all commonly supported by virtual reality systems, but smell is generally not despite its important role in daily life and in the formation and development of recall of memories.
Xinge Yu at the City University of Hong Kong, the old scent generators were large “clumsy” devices, which released scents over a large area and were slow to switch between scents.
His team has created two devices capable of releasing odors on demand. One is a flexible patch about 5 centimeters long fitted to the upper lip containing two cells, each with the ability to release fragrance. The other is a face mask with a grid of nine different scents, which can also be combined to create other scents.
Each device is controlled by a small chip that communicates wirelessly with computers via Bluetooth to coordinate the release of scents when the wearer approaches a scented object in VR.
Odors are created by liquid perfumes added to paraffin containers. When an odor is needed, the cell is heated to 50°C (122°F) with a small heater. Since both devices are close to the nose, wearers can detect smells within 1.5 seconds of turning them on.
In an experiment with the face mask, 11 volunteers were able to detect different scents, including mint, jasmine, lavender and pineapple, with an average success rate of 93%.
Yu says the system can make virtual reality more compelling, but could also be used to make people in different places feel closer to each other.
“By wearing the olfactory system, children could smell their absent families, and separated couples could smell each other by smelling their scents,” he says. “In terms of entertainment, users could experience various outdoor environments with different nature smells at home by VR. We believe that bad smells can be used as easily as pleasant smells.