What does virtual reality smell like? Marketers (and the world) may soon find out
"Adding olfactory experiences to VR could make the tech more believable and take it in entirely new directions - potentially opening up new and exciting opportunities for marketers."
February 15, 2023
"As it stands, VR is primarily an auditory-visual experience. There’s an element of touch, too; … But what if we could smell virtual environments?
OVR Technology, a tech start-up based in Vermont, is devoted to solving this problem. The company has built the Ion, which it describes as “wearable scent technology.” It looks a bit like a bulky set of wraparound Bluetooth headphones attached to a claw-shaped device that sits directly under the user’s nose, and which emits scents complementing one’s experience in VR. The Ion incorporates eight “primary aromas” - soft, fresh, earthy, green, citrus, floral, sweet and woody – which can be experienced individually or in a near-infinite variety of combinations.
One of the ways in which the olfactory sense differs from our other four senses is that it’s connected directly to the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain which facilitates very high-level cognitive processes like learning, language processing, and decision-making, our brains use our sense of smell in large part to create a mental map of the world - a neurological feature which has huge implications for the rapidly evolving and expanding realm of VR.
There’s a balancing act at play here. While OVR endeavors to make smells feel realistic enough to be able to pull a subtle psychological sleight-of-hand - convincing the brain that they are in fact real – they can’t be made too convincing. Otherwise, the user will start wading into what’s known as the “uncanny valley.” You can think of this as a narrow zone separating the obviously artificial from the obviously organic, a thin sliver of space wherein simulations of reality transition from being fun and enjoyable to being disturbing – a little too lifelike.
Should the incorporation of smells into VR go mainstream, it will likely offer a plethora of opportunities for brands to engage with their audiences in new and innovative ways."