Feelreal VR Mask and Nirvana helmet let gamers smell and feel the action

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Feelreal hopes its VR mask and helmet will bring two more senses – smell and feel – to the virtual reality experience

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In what could just as easily prove to be a very bad idea as it could a good one, a startup company called Feelreal has created a virtual reality mask and helmet that lets you smell virtual environments. The company claims its devices stimulate both the olfactory (smell) and tactile (touch) senses, thereby immersing you in virtual water mist or wind or a battlefield.

The Feelreal VR Mask fits somewhat awkwardly over the lower half of your face and optionally mounts to the bottom of a VR headset such as the Oculus Rift. It includes an odor generator that takes seven removable "smell cartridges," which vaporize a mixture of perfumes to create an appropriate scent for the game you're playing or the movie you're watching.

The basic set of smells covers the jungle, flowers, ocean, burning rubber, fire, gunpowder, and aphrodisiacs. But Feelreal will be allowing orders of a number of other predesigned smells as well as custom-made smells (if you’re willing to pay US$300 and can describe it in detail).

The Mask also includes micro-coolers and heaters that generate a sensation of heat or wind, plus a couple of haptic motors for force feedback and an ultrasonic ionizing system that makes it feel like tiny water droplets are striking your cheeks. And there's a microphone so people can hear you scream.

The Nirvana VR helmet, meanwhile, goes the whole hog with sensory stimulation. It includes a high-resolution smartphone display and a 3D audio system, plus a slot that the mask slides into. And at the top end, with the "VIRT" model, it steps up to micro projection and fabric lining for greater comfort.

Gamers will be reliant on developers going to the trouble of adding support for the devices' tactile and olfactory features, but film buffs will have a Feelreal Player that lets them set smells and blasts of heat or spray according to their own preferences.

All models connect wirelessly via Bluetooth to the digital entertainment source device. The mask should last around four hours of continuous use, while the helmet should manage six hours without a recharge. The helmet also comes in three sizes to accommodate the small and big-headed among us. And the mask has white or black color options.

Feelreal is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund production and further work on dev kit and early consumer versions. If you're willing to bet that Feelreal's VR gear will feel as real as they say, pledges for the mask plus software development kit start at US$250. A prototype helmet will set you back $500, while the consumer version is at $600.

If the $50,000 funding goal is met and no production hiccups encountered, backers can expect their gear later this year.

You can watch Feelreal's Kickstarter pitch video below.

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