Sniffer in a virtual reality environment is possible with new gaming technology

Newswise – A scent machine, called an olfactory meter, that makes it possible to smell smell in virtual reality environments. First up is a “wine tasting game” where the user smells a wine in a virtual wine cellar and gets points if the guess on the aromas in each wine is correct. The new technology that can be printed on 3D printers was developed in collaboration between Stockholm University and Malmö University. The research, funded by the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, was recently published in International Journal of Human and Computer Studies.

“We hope that new technical possibilities will lead to scents having a more important role in game development,” says Jonas Olofsson, professor of psychology and research project leader at Stockholm University.

In the past, computer games mostly focused on what we can see – moving images on screens. Other senses were not present. But an interdisciplinary research group at Stockholm University and Malmö University has now built an aromatic machine that can be controlled by a gaming computer. In the game, the participant moves in a virtual wine cellar, picks up virtual wine glasses containing different types of wine, guesses the aromas. The small scent machine is connected to the console of the VR system, and when the player lifts the glass, it releases a scent.

“The possibility of moving from a passive sense of smell to a more active sense of smell in the game world paves the way for the development of completely new scent-based game mechanics based on players’ movements and judgments,” says Simon Niedenthal, Interaction and Games Researcher at Malmö University.

An olfactory meter consists of four different valves, each connected to a channel. In the middle there is a fan that sucks air into a tube. With the help of the computer, the player can control the four channels so that they open to different degrees and provide different combinations of smell. Aroma blends that can mimic the sophistication of a real glass of wine. The game has different levels of difficulty with increasing levels of complexity.

“In the same way that a normal computer game becomes more difficult the better the player becomes; the aroma game can also challenge players who already have a sensitive nose. This means that the aroma machine can be used to train wine tasters or perfumers,” says Jonas Olofsson.

All code, schematics, and instructions for the device are openly available on the Internet, as is the code for a virtual wine tasting game. The research group, the Perceptual-Sensory Interaction Laboratory, located in the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University, now hopes that scented computer games may become useful for other purposes.

“For those who have lost, for example, their sense of smell after COVID-19 or for other reasons, the new technology could mean an opportunity to regain their sense of smell with the help of game-based training,” says Jonas Olofsson, one of the researchers.

Smell training is a method doctors recommend to people who lose their sense of smell after colds and other viruses, but according to Jonas Olofson, many people stop training because it gets too boring.

“I hope that the fact that the graphics and icons are publicly available as ‘open source’ will lead to an opportunity for game companies to start creating new commercial scent-training products using the new technology,” says Jonas Olofsson.

According to Simon Niedenthal, “open source” leads to enhanced accessibility, reproducibility, and comparability of results in research. It also contributes to creating a cohesive research and design community in the game development field.

But it also means that equipment costs have fallen dramatically, making it available to more people. Simon Niedenthal says.

“We believe in open science, that research results should be publicly available and that other researchers should be able to replicate our findings. With the help of our research, others can build aroma machines and explore new ways to use scents in games,” says Jonas Olofsson.

The olfactory scale technology was developed by Peter Lundén, a research engineer at Stockholm University and a member of the SCI LAB research team.

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