‘Olfactometer’ brings smells to VR worlds for wine sniffing game

Smells could be introduced into virtual reality (VR) worlds through the development of a smell machine or “olfactometer”.

Made by a team of researchers from Stockholm and Malmö University, the device allows smelling in VR environments and a “wine tasting game” has been developed to test it.

The game sees the user smell wine in a virtual wine cellar and get points if they correctly guess the different aromas of each wine.

In the game, the participant moves through a virtual wine cellar, picking up virtual wine glasses with different types of wine, guessing the aromas. The small scent machine is attached to the VR system controller, and when the player lifts the glass, it releases a scent.

“We hope that the new technical possibilities will allow scents to play a greater role in game development,” said Jonas Olofsson, professor of psychology and head of the research project.

The olfactometer, which can be 3D printed, consists of four different valves each connected to a channel with a fan in the middle that draws air through a tube.

Image credit: William Fredborg

With the help of the computer, the player can control the four channels to open to different degrees and deliver different blends of flavor. Fragrance blends can mimic the complexity of a real wine glass. The game has different difficulty levels with increasing levels of complexity.

“In the same way that a normal computer game gets harder, the better the player gets; the smell game can also challenge players who already have sensitive noses. This means that the perfume machine can even be used to train tasters or perfumers,” added Olofsson.

Smell training is a method recommended by doctors for those who lose their sense of smell after colds and other viruses, but many people stop training because it becomes too boring.

“For those who, for example, have lost their sense of smell after Covid-19 or for other reasons, new technology may mean an opportunity to regain their sense of smell with the help of game-based training,” a- he added.

All codes, plans and instructions for the machine are freely available online, as is the code for the virtual wine tasting game. The researchers hope that the scented computer games can become useful for other purposes.

Simon Niedenthal, an interaction and game researcher at Malmö University, said the decision to make it “open source” was made to promote accessibility, reproducibility and comparability of results in research.

“But it also means the costs of the equipment are drastically reduced, making it accessible to more people. For us, this is important,” said Niedenthal.

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