CES 2023: How companies bring the ability to smell and touch the Metaverse

Is the metaverse closer than we thought?

It depends on who you ask at CES, where companies are demonstrating innovations that can take us deeper into virtual reality, aka VR.

Metaverse — essentially a buzzword for three-dimensional virtual communities where people can meet, work, and play — was the main theme of the four-day tech meeting in Las Vegas that ended on Thursday. Sunday.

Taiwanese tech giant HTC unveils high-end phone virtual reality headsets aimed at competing with market leader Meta, and a host of other companies and startups touted augmented reality glasses and sensory technology that can help users feel — and even smell — in a virtual environment.

Among them, Vermont-based OVR Technology introduced a headset with a box containing eight key scents that can be combined to create different scents. It is expected to be released later this year.

An earlier, business-focused version used primarily for marketing fragrances and beauty products was integrated into VR headsets and allowed users to smell anything from a carpet of romantic roses enjoy the marshmallows grilled over the fire at the campsite.

The company says it aims to help consumers relax and is marketing the product to go with an app, as a kind of digital spa combined with Instagram.

“We are entering an era where augmented reality will drive commerce, entertainment, education, social connectivity and wellbeing,” the company’s CEO and co-founder Aaron Wisniewski said in a statement. An announcement. “The quality of these experiences will be measured by how immersive and emotionally engaging they are. The scent imbues them with an incomparable power.”

But more intense and immersive uses of scent – and its close cousin, taste – are still further on the innovation spectrum. Experts say even more accessible VR technologies are in the early stages of development and too expensive for many consumers to buy.

The numbers suggest that interest is dwindling. Sales of VR headsets, commonly used in gaming, fell 2% last year, according to research firm NPD Group, a sour note for companies betting big on mass adoption. than.

However, big companies like Microsoft and Meta are investing billions of dollars. And many more are joining the race for some market share in assistive technologies, including touch-reproducible wearables.

However, customers are not always impressed with what they find. Ozan Ozaskinli, a technology consultant traveled more than 29 hours from Istanbul to attend CESdressed with yellow gloves and a black vest to test so-called tactile products, which relay sensations through buzzes and vibrations, and stimulate our sense of touch.

Ozaskinli is trying to press a code on his keyboard that allows him to pull a lever and unlock a box containing a shiny gem. But the experience was mostly a disappointment.

“I think that’s far from reality today,” Ozaskinli said. “But if I’m looking at it to replace Zoom meetings, why not? At least you can feel something.

Advocates say that the widespread adoption of virtual reality will ultimately benefit different sections of society by fundamentally unlocking the ability to be with anyone, anywhere. when. While it’s too early to know what these technologies can do once they’re fully mature, companies that want to achieve the most immersive user experience are welcoming them with open arms.

Aurora Townsend, chief marketing officer of Flare, a company that is expected to launch a VR dating app called Planet Theta next month, said her team is building its app to incorporate multiple emotions. feel more like touch as the technology becomes more widely available in the consumer market.

“Being able to feel the ground while you’re walking with your partner or hold their hand while you’re doing it… the subtle ways we engage people will change after publicity,” says Townsend. haptic technology is completely incorporated into VR,” said Townsend.

However, it is unlikely that many of these products will be widely used in the next few years, even in games, said Matthew Ball, a metaverse expert. Instead, he said pioneering areas of adoption could be those with higher budgets and more precise needs, such as haptic and virtual reality bomb units. to support their work and other areas of the medical field.

In 2021, Johns Hopkins neurosurgeons said they used augmented reality to perform spinal fusion surgery and remove cancerous tumors from a patient’s spine.

And optical technology from Lumus, an Israeli company that makes AR glasses, is already being used by underwater welders, fighter pilots and surgeons who want to monitor vital signs of disease. or MRI scans during surgery without having to look at multiple screens, said David Goldman, the company’s vice president of marketing.

Meanwhile, Xander, a Boston-based startup that makes smart glasses that display real-time captions of live chats for the hearing impaired, is launching a program pilot with the US Department of Veterans Affairs next month to test some of its features. technology, said Alex Westner, the company’s co-founder and CEO. He said the agency will allow veterans with hearing loss or other sound problems to get an appointment to try the glasses at some of their clinics. And if all goes well, the company will likely become a customer, Westner said.

Elsewhere, major companies from Walmart to Nike have launched various initiatives in virtual reality. But it’s unclear how much they might benefit in the early stages of the technology. Consulting firm McKinsey says the metaverse could generate as much as $5 trillion by 2030. But beyond gaming, much of today’s VR use remains a sideline entertainment, said Michael Kleeman, strategist. technology and visiting scholar at the University of California San Diego, said.

“When people are advertising this, what they have to answer is — where is the value of this? Where is the profit? Not what’s fun, what’s cute, and what’s interesting.”

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