New Gaming Technology Enables Smelling in VR

A collaboration between Stockholm University and Malmö University has led to the development of new technology that makes it possible to smell in a virtual reality (VR) environment. The new machine, dubbed the olfactometer, can be printed on 3D printers.

The research was funded by the Marianna and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation and published in International Journal of Human – Computer Studies.

Jonas Olofsson is Professor of Psychology and Research Project Leader at Stockholm University.

“We hope that the new technical possibilities will lead to scents playing a more important role in game development,” says Olofsson.

Development of a scent machine

Traditionally, computer games tend to focus more on what we can see, such as B. moving images on screens than other senses. But that is changing. The interdisciplinary research group developed a scent machine that can be controlled by a game computer. In the game, the participant moves in a virtual wine cellar and picks up virtual wine glasses with different types of wine. The contestant does this while guessing the flavors.

The scent machine is connected to the controller of the VR system. When the player lifts the glass, it releases a scent.

Simon Niedenthal is an interaction and game researcher at Malmö University.

“The ability to move from a passive to a more active sense of smell in the game world paves the way for the development of entirely new smell-based game mechanics based on player movements and judgments,” says Niedenthal.

Construction of the olfactometer

The olfactometer has four different valves, each connected to a channel. In the center is a fan that sucks air into a tube. The computer allows the player to control the four channels, which open differently and deliver different blends of scents. The blends of scents mimic the complexity of real wine, and the game has varying levels of difficulty based on complexity.

“Just like a regular computer game gets harder as the player gets better; The scent game can also challenge players who already have a sensitive nose. This means that the scent machine can even be used to train wine tasters or perfumers,” says Olofsson.

The team has posted all the codes, blueprints and instructions for the machine online, as well as the code for the virtual tasting games. The research group now hopes that scented computer games can expand their possible uses.

“For those who have lost their sense of smell, for example due to COVID-19 or for other reasons, the new technology may represent an opportunity to regain their sense of smell using game-based training,” says Olofsson.

“I hope that the fact that the drawings and code are openly available as ‘open source’ will lead to game companies starting to develop new, commercial scent training products using the new technology,” he continues.

Simon Niedenhal says the open-source aspect of the technology helps promote accessibility, reproducibility and comparison of results. It also helps build a research and design community within game development.

“But it also means the cost of the equipment is greatly reduced, making it available to more people. That’s important to us,” says Niedenthal.

“We believe in open science that research results should be made available to the public and that other researchers should be able to replicate our results. With the help of our research, others can build scent machines and explore new ways of using scents in games,” adds Olofsson.