Virtual reality system lets you stop and smell the roses

By Simon Makin

Virtual reality is already widespread in entertainment and is starting to spread to fields ranging from education to health care. But while vision and hearing interfaces are extremely advanced, and touch, or “haptics,” is improving, one key sense has been missing from the virtual world: smell.

That may be about to change. Engineer Xinge Yu of the City University of Hong Kong and his colleagues have developed a lightweight, flexible and wireless olfactory interface that can precisely deliver smells such as lavender, pineapple or green tea to VR users and more fully immerse them in scented virtual worlds. “Bringing smell into VR expands it into another dimension,” Yu says. “We wanted to develop something in a wearable, skin-integrated format that people can go anywhere with and use anytime.”

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