Our sense of smell is often overlooked, but it plays a bigger part in our perception of the world around us than we might give it credit for. Now it's being used to help sell the illusion of virtual reality with the FeelReal VR Mask, which not only wafts certain scents your way but can also simulate rain, heat and wind on your face.
The FeelReal mask is apparently compatible with most existing VR headsets, like the Oculus Rift and Go, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. The device attaches to the bottom of the headset with magnetic mounts and connects (digitally-speaking) via Bluetooth. If you thought people looked goofy in a regular VR headset, the FeelReal mask takes it to a whole new level, giving you the appearance of a welder or a Star Wars villain.
But that's focusing on the wrong sense here. Nine individual aroma capsules can be slotted into the mask and sprayed into your face on command, to help with the immersion of whatever you're watching or playing. The team says the full catalog includes 255 different smells, all designed by perfumer and olfactologist Bogdan Zubchenko. The range includes some usual suspects like coffee and lavender, right up to more outlandish, scene-setting scents like burning rubber or gunpowder.
But it's not just smell. FeelReal is calling the mask "multi-sensory" because it also adds other sensations. Micro-heaters and micro-coolers embedded in the device (safely, apparently) are designed to push warm or cool air onto your face, to sell the illusion of being in, say, a desert or on top of a mountain. An ultrasonic ionizing system is supposed to recreate the feeling of water mist on your cheeks, and like most controllers nowadays, there are haptic motors inside that vibrate.
The FeelReal team says that big VR games like Skyrim or Beat Saber can be modded to work with the multi-sensory mask, and developers can use a FeelReal plugin to dictate to the system when to release which aromas or other sensations. The FeelReal player does the same for 360-degree videos, and it also has more relaxing modes for meditation and aromatherapy. To really show off the device's full capabilities, the team says it plans to release its own VR experiences called FeelReal Dreams.
It sure sounds pretty cool so far, but let's not get our hopes up too high just yet. FeelReal tried to crowdfund what looks almost like the exact same thing back in 2015, without success. Other logistical issues need to be considered, like how likely software developers are to bother implementing the tech into their games and videos. Then there's the all-important question of whether anybody actually wants to smell the zombies they're fighting in games.
Whether it will come to pass or not, FeelReal isn't the only company trying to get us to stop and smell the virtual roses. Vaqso VR, announced as a developer kit just last month, looks pretty similar. A few years ago Ubisoft promoted the latest South Park game with a device that let (read: forced) players to whiff the game's many farts, while the OhRoma is specifically designed to add scents to more uh, adult entertainment.
There's no word on pricing or availability for the FeelReal Multi-Sensory VR Mask just yet, but the company says it will be running another Kickstarter campaign soon. If you're interested, you can sign up for the newsletter on the FeelReal website.
Update (Apr. 29, 2019): FeelReal has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter with pledges starting at US$209. The campaign has easily surpassed its $20,000 goal, approaching $130,000 raised with over a week still remaining.
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