Virtual reality aspires to develop an alternative digital life through sight, sound, smell, and touch, with glasses, haptic gloves, scent accessories, and hearing helmets.
VR Experience is an environment of realistic-looking but computer-generated objects and scenes that give the user a sense of physical presence and immersion.
Through our senses of sight and hearing, and through virtual reality glasses, we can fully enter places as diverse as, for example, an operating room to perform an operation, training to operate specialized machinery, receive a treatment to overcome a phobia or hold a work meeting through virtual avatars.
If all this is achieved only through two senses, what would it be like if, in addition to seeing and hearing, we could touch, smell and taste virtually?
The Possibilities of Touch
Touch has immense possibilities within this new virtual world. Not only what is perceived in the nerve endings of the fingers, but in our own skin. Noticing cold, heat, or the sensation of pain, feeling the shape and weight of objects through the muscles, distinguishing textures realistically and not with simple vibrations…
Smell the Different Environments
And the smell? Being able to distinguish the smell of wet earth, the smells of nature, of different environments (hospitals, museums, shopping centers…). In virtual reality, everything that complements and emphasizes what our vision perceives is very important.
Currently, there are so-called Head-Mounted-Displays (HMDs), display devices similar to a helmet that allow the reproduction of computer-generated images on a display, and incorporate stereoscopic vision, immersive sound, and body position tracking.
But there are many sensations in virtual reality that we are missing. What happens when a user touches another avatar and doesn’t feel anything? What happens in our mind when we take an object in VR Experience and it doesn’t weigh or feel its shape? The sensation of presence makes us feel that everything we experience in virtual reality seems real, but, without a doubt, it is harmed in those cases.
Luckily, little by little devices are being developed that allow the five senses to be used in VR Experience, generating a 100% immersive experience. Let’s see some examples and their possible applications.
For years there have been devices that realistically simulate touch in the virtual world, allowing the user to truly interact with virtual objects. In the form of gloves, with or without exoskeletons, they make the user feel that they are grasping an object, its shape, its texture, and even its weight.
Can we imagine a virtual reality experience that allows learning how to recover a person from cardiac arrest by faithfully recreating the feel of the maneuver in the rib cage? A social experience where you can feel the hands and contact of another avatar? The experience would be much more completer and more effective.
Similarly, adult content apps would be much more appealing if they incorporated the sense of touch. Meta is currently developing virtual touch devices with sensitive skin called Reskin, aimed at improving the experience in the metaverse by using virtual touch as a complement to glasses. Likewise, there are also vests and haptic suits that cover the entire torso such as those from Teslasuite.
The olfactory sensation considerably increases the sensation of presence and evokes sensations that cannot be recreated with another sense, which strengthens the use of this type of immersive technology for treatments and training. Being able to smell what’s around you virtually makes it more realistic and believable. For example, in training firefighters to practice different tactics to put out a fire or save potential victims, it would be implausible if the user did not perceive the smell of smoke or burning, which causes a stress and alert response in the brain. of the humans.
In addition, having this technology makes it easier to use virtual reality in therapies for anosmia (total loss of smell) or hyposmia (decreased ability to smell), as is already being done. Research in this regard is also advancing, and different companies have developed solutions that allow more realistic experiences, as they are accessories that can be attached to virtual reality glasses.
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In this case, work is being done to incorporate devices that allow, through electro-stimulators, to activate certain areas of our tongue to recreate sour, sweet, bitter flavors, etc. Let’s imagine VR Experience that allows us to savor different flavors or restaurant dishes before they are evenly cooked. We could visit restaurants around the world through your virtual menu. In this case, there is still a lot to learn about how we can activate the sense of taste without actually eating something.
The Best is Yet to Come
Without a doubt, while current virtual reality technology is amazing, we are only at the beginning of what may come in the next few years.
All these lines of development aim to cover the objective of being able to create a new reality, a digital twin, where the user can replicate multiple labor, industrial, social, training, and leisure dynamics… We are talking about the development of an alternative digital life, where the user sees his needs satisfied through the network in a full, safe, ubiquitous, and usable way. All of this involves using VR Experience as an access interface; with their glasses, their haptic gloves, their scent accessories, and their hearing helmets.
I have no doubt that, in the following decades, we will experience enormous advances in everything that refers to extended realities.