Professor Hanington’s Talking Science: Feeling the Video Games


Virtual Reality (VR) is a simulated experience that uses physical body tracking and 3D glasses screens to give the user an immersive feel in a computer-created world. Applications include video games, education and business. Imagine a surgeon broadcasting to thousands of students at once using virtual reality to teach the intricacies of an appendectomy. Or perhaps attend a conference using virtual reality without leaving the comfort of your living room.

Typical virtual reality systems today use either VR headsets or multi-projection environments to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in the location as the origin of the diffusion. A person using VR equipment is able to look around the “manufactured world”, move around it and interact with the objects defined in the display. The most common VR headsets consist of tiny displays with screens mounted directly in front of the eyes, incorporating both auditory and video feedback, further enhancing the sense of participation. Now, a newly invented smell machine called an olfactometer also makes it possible to smell your surroundings in virtual reality.

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An interdisciplinary research group from Stockholm University and Malmö University has now built a scent machine that can be controlled by a gaming computer. The research, funded by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, has been included in the upcoming January 2023 issue of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

The discussion of the device on the university’s website contains the following comment from Professor Jonas Olofsson, leader of the research team: “For those who, for example, have lost their sense of smell after COVID-19 or for d For other reasons, new technology may mean an opportunity to regain their sense of smell using game-based training.” Smell training is a doctor-recommended method for those who lose their sense of smell after colds and other viruses, the site says, but according to Olofsson, many people stop training because it gets too boring. According to the researchers, the new technology comes in the form of a full motion VR game where the participant moves through a virtual wine cellar, picking up virtual wine glasses containing different types of wine, guessing the mixtures from of their aroma.

The combination of sight and smell is not new. At the 1929 screening of the film “Lilac Time” at the Fenway Theater in Boston, Massachusetts, the director poured a pint of lilac scent into the plenum chamber of the theater’s ventilation system so the audience could smell the lilac when the movie title appears. . It was a huge success. On a larger scale, the movie “Scent of Mystery” (1960) incorporated a system that emitted scents throughout the movie theater during the movie so that the viewer could “smell” what was happening in the movie.

Invented by Hans Laube, the process injected 30 odors into the seats of a movie theater when triggered by the film’s soundtrack. Unfortunately, the daring experiment never really caught on because it would take a long time to eliminate one smell from another. Because the human nose has trouble transitioning between odors, it takes tens of minutes until the molecules that triggered an odor are completely cleared from the nose. As viewers discovered, the release of large volumes of fragrance got mixed up and confused.

Always an experimenter, Walt Disney was actually the first filmmaker to explore the idea of ​​including scents with his 1940 musical “Fantasia,” but ultimately decided against it for cost reasons. However, in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, when guests watch the 3D movie “It’s Hard Being a Bug”, an unpleasant odor is released when a bug is seen on the screen.

The Stockholm University olfactometer consists of four different valves, each connected to a channel, and in the middle is a fan that draws air into a tube. Using a computer, the player can control the four channels to open to different degrees and deliver different blends of flavors that can mimic the complexity of a real wine glass. The game has different difficulty levels and the user gets points if the wine estimate is correct. Maybe they also get a bottle of wine.

“Smell helps us enjoy food and drink, it warns us of dangerous chemicals and it makes our environment more pleasant. However, olfaction is one of our least explored sensory systems. With my colleagues, I discovered that olfactory deficits could be an early indication of a developing dementia disorder. Thus, olfactory tests could be used as a diagnostic tool in the future. Our goal is to develop methods to train the aging brain on odors to enhance the brain’s perceptual and cognitive abilities,” says Olofsson.

Gary Hanington is Emeritus Professor of Physical Sciences at Great Basin College. He can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected]

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