SU Nosewise Jens Olof Lasthein

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

Image credit: Jens Lasthein

Smells could be introduced to virtual-reality (VR) worlds through the development of an odour machine or ‘olfactometer’.

Made by a team of Stockholm and Malmö University researchers, the device makes it possible to smell in VR environments and a 'wine-tasting game' has been developed to test it out.

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

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

“We hope that the new technical possibilities will lead to scents having a more important role in game development,” said Jonas Olofsson, professor of psychology and leader 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 which sucks air into a tube.

SU Nosewise

Image credit: William Fredborg

With the help of the computer, the player can control the four channels so that they open to different degrees and provide different mixtures of scent. The scent blends can mimic the complexity of a real wine glass. 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 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,” Olofsson added.

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, lost their sense of smell after Covid-19 or for other reasons, the new technology can mean an opportunity to regain their sense of smell with the help of game-based training,” he added.

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

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

“But it also means that the costs of the equipment are greatly reduced, which makes it available to more people. To us that is important,” Niedenthal said.

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