In a recent study published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, a team of researchers from Sweden have developed a “compact, low-cost olfactory display fitted to the hand controller of the HTC Vive Virtual Reality (VR) system that employs stepless valves to enable control of scent magnitude and blending”, as the paper states. Olfaction is also known as the sense of small, and this study holds the potential to open the doors for being able to smell in a VR environment.
"We hope that the new technical possibilities will lead to scents having a more important role in game development,” said Dr. Jonas Olofsson, who is a professor of psychology at Stockholm University, and a co-author on the study.
While past computer games have focused on the visual aspect of gameplay, all other senses have been unavailable. This study hopes to incorporate the sense of smell into the gameplay by designing a VR environment where the user walks through a wine cellar and uses the hand controller to smell different wines they pick up throughout the game. When the player lifts a glass of wine, they use that same controller to smell the wine itself.
"The possibility to move on from a passive to a more active sense of smell in the game world paves the way for the development of completely new smell-based game mechanics based on the players' movements and judgments," says Dr. Simon Niedenthal, who is an associate professor of Interaction Game Design at Malmö University, and lead author of the study.
All the data for the design, including blueprints, all code, and machine instructions are available openly online, known as “open source”, with the research group hoping that scented computer games can be used for additional purposes.
"For those who, for example, lost their sense of smell after COVID-19 or for other reasons, the new technology can mean an opportunity to regain their sense of smell with the help of game-based training," says Dr. Jonas Olofsson, who is a professor of psychology at Stockholm University, and a co-author on the study.
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!