Smell Your Foes With Virtual Reality For All Five Senses

The Oculus Rift meets Smell-O-Vision in this VR mask prototype

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While a bevy of companies are all trying to popularize virtual reality, some think that current VR technology doesn’t go far enough. Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR might let you see a virtual world, but a company called Feelreal is running a Kickstarter campaign for their VR mask, which aims to let your other senses–including smell and touch–in on the fun.

To enhance the immersive experience, Feelreal relies on packing in a variety of other technologies into its $249 mask, including micro-coolers to simulate wind, microheaters to produce warmth, water misters, and even an odor generator with seven interchangeable smell cartridges. The mask would work in concert with a pair of existing VR goggles to experience games and 3D movies.

Personally, I’m skeptical. Odor generation seems like a gimmick; I’m not sure I want to smell most of the games I’m playing. Feelreal offers some common basic smells that show up in many games: jungle, burning rubber, fire, and gunpowder–yum! Game-makers can also order a custom-made smell for $300.

Remember Smell-O-Vision? No? There’s a reason for that. The attempt (one of many going back as far as the ’60s) to add an olfactory component to movies tanked, thanks to a distracting hissing noise from the delivery system, uneven and slow smell distribution throughout the theater, loud sniffing noises from the audience, and of course that biggest of Hollywood deathblows: bad publicity. In total, it ended up being a tacky experience, and one that has never really come into high demand for moviegoers–or game players.

While having the ability to generate smells, heat, and even water mist might seem like it could add an additional dimension to virtual reality, I think game makers are still more focused on delivering high quality graphics and audio than they are in branching out into other senses. In order to actually succeed, Feelreal needs to find developers who are willing to build support for all these difference experiences into their games–and VR itself has been a hard enough sell so far.