Creating temperature illusions using smells in virtual reality

June 26, 2020

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Researchers from the University of Chicago's Human Computer Integration Lab have developed a way of simulating temperature in VR by using smells.

We explore a temperature illusion that uses low-powered electronics and enables the miniaturization of simple warm and cool sensations. Our illusion relies on the properties of certain scents, such as the coolness of mint or hotness of peppers. These odors trigger not only the olfactory bulb, but also the nose's trigeminal nerve, which has receptors that respond to both temperature and chemicals. To exploit this, we engineered a wearable device based on micropumps and an atomizer that emits up to three custom-made "thermal" scents directly to the user's nose. Breathing in these scents causes the user to feel warmer or cooler. We demonstrate how our device renders warmth and cooling sensations in virtual experiences. Participants rated VR experiences with our trigeminal stimulants as significantly warmer or cooler than the baseline conditions. Lastly, we believe this offers an alternative to thermal feedback devices, which unfortunately rely on power-hungry heat-lamps or Peltier-elements.

So basically they blast pepper into your nose to make you feel hot and mint into your nose to make you feel cold. It's not the worst idea I've ever heard, but I can't imagine breathing in pepper for hours at a time can be good for you. "But what about that time you shoved sliced jalapenos into your nose on a dare?" That was to earn the respect of my peers, and it failed miserably when I ended up lying on the floor crying.

Keep going for a video of the VR device in action.

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