What Does the Metaverse Smell Like?
How Scent Technology Adds New Dimensions to Virtual Experiences
At Subvrsive, we find VR storytelling endlessly exciting. Yet, we know that today’s virtual reality experiences are just beginning to scratch the surface of what can (and will) be achieved in the future. As an immersive innovation studio, we’re constantly exploring ways to bring that future closer and we’ve earned a reputation for applying the latest technologies to do just that.
We recently had the opportunity to get our hands on the latest tech from OVR Technology, a Vermont-based startup that aims to incorporate our sense of smell into metaverse experiences. After spending a few weeks with the gear, and inviting several members of our team to take a whiff for themselves, we have some thoughts on what scent technology could mean for the future of immersive experiences.
The Science Behind Scent
Conceptually, it checks out that incorporating scent into virtual worlds would create significantly deeper, more immersive experiences. After all, smell is our most primitive sense. While it’s true that most of us rely more heavily on our sense of sight in daily life, smell uniquely connects directly to the limbic system, which controls our memory, emotions, behavior, and motivation.
That’s why the team at OVR is so passionate about the promise of scent technology to truly transform metaverse experiences. And why our team was so eager to test it out for ourselves.
About OVR Technology
To bring spatial scent technology to VR experiences, the OVR team created a headset extension called ION that connects via Bluetooth to VR headsets and produces nano-particles of scent that can be released in millisecond increments to enhance any VR content built in Unity or Unreal.
The solution works in much the same way as spatial audio does for VR: as you get closer to the source of the smell within a VR experience, the scent grows stronger; as you back away, the scent recedes.
To test the technology for ourselves, we created three quick demos. The first was a minimalist environment with seven spheres, each triggering one of seven unique scents; campfire, energize, calm, forest, lavender, ocean, and dirt. The second was a VR environment containing seven 3D objects that each triggered one of the same scents. The third was a serene 360° video scene that placed users next to a waterfall and emitted campfire and ocean scents.
Everyone who tested the kit was excited by the technology and could see several possibilities for future applications.
Max Bolotov, our director of client services, was particularly impressed with the ability of the technology to evoke specific emotions and memories, even outside of a highly-produced immersive experience. “When I first put on the headset, it was business as usual. I looked all around me and began to explore the virtual space,” Max said. “After my colleague asked me to move closer to a sphere, I was suddenly hit with an intense smokey smell that immediately brought me back to when I was camping with my family last year.”
Shep Bryan, our strategic growth lead, commented that the tech helps to close the “imagination gap” for people by bringing virtual experiences that much closer to reality.
Our Two (S)Cents on OVR Technology for the Metaverse
Aside from obvious applications for scent-focused perfume and body care brands, our team’s overall feedback pointed to two obvious areas we feel this technology is particularly well-suited to transform: experiential marketing and immersive training.
When asked about her thoughts on the potential of OVR Technology for brands, our UX lead, Madeline Packard, said it best:
“Whether we realize it or not, our sense of smell helps us navigate the world. We can use scent in the metaverse in a multitude of ways, but the immediate game changers will be applications of storytelling and utility.
For example, my sense of smell helps me determine whether there are fresh cookies being made in the oven, or lets me know when I’m getting close to a river in a forest. By unlocking the sense of smell, storytellers have a new dimension to leverage to guide people through a more curated experience. On the other hand, my sense of smell can alert me if a fire has broken out. We know the benefits of virtual reality for intensive training scenarios, and with technology like ION, we can now design more realistic scenarios to better prepare trainees for real-world experiences.
Similarly, we can also imagine smell being a differentiator for brands in the metaverse. Scent marketing has been used by department stores and boutiques for decades, with the understanding that the right fragrance can actually heighten the perception of merchandise and possibly increase time spent in the store. Just like the physical world, we can anticipate seeing many new strategies for scents in the metaverse and how this new dimension can give a unique and unforgettable experience.”
After trying OVR’s technology for ourselves, we can’t help but think the possibilities extend far beyond VR experiences. We asked the OVR team for their thoughts on what the future could hold and OVR’s CEO, Aaron Wisniewski, had this to say:
“We are only beginning to explore the possibilities of digital scent. I think the obvious application is to make digital environments “feel more realistic” but the future isn’t just about mimicking the natural world, it’s about the reinvention of smell the same way we have reinvented our other senses like sound and sight and even taste.
In 1851, chemists first discovered how to create synthetic flavors and, at ”The Great Exhibition in London’s Crystal Palace”, displayed candy flavored with these new inventions as one of many marvels of modern science. Fast forward to now, we have thousands of synthetic flavor molecules in nearly everything we eat and drink that range from the hyper-realistic (orange and lemon) to the completely outlandish (rainbow unicorn flavored energy drink). Now, not all of these flavors are good, but the point is, once we have the ability to recreate the natural world, we are no longer constrained by it. And that’s where the fun begins.
At OVR we are thrilled to be able to supply this platform and support creative people and organizations who are leading the way with immersive technologies and experiences.”
True and complete immersion calls for more than convincing visuals. It requires haptics that leverage vibrations and motions to incorporate our sense of touch. It requires spatial audio that lets users hear sound from every direction. And it requires calling upon our sense of smell to invoke our memories and emotions.
While it’s still early days for the tech, our team is inspired by the promise of scent technology. We are actively exploring real-world applications for a number of our brand partners and are excited about the possibilities.
Looking to learn more? Reach out here to get in touch with someone from our team.