Virtual Reality headset simulates all five senses

Written by Ben Hardwidge

March 5, 2009 // 10:08 a.m.

Tags: #cocoon #epsrc #five #headset #real #reality #senses #simulate #smell #taste #tough #virtual #virtuality

Remember when virtual reality started to make a name for itself in the early 1990s? Let’s face it, those brightly-coloured angular worlds and faceless people just weren’t realistic enough to suck you into computers as they did in awful films such as The Lawnmower Man, whether you were wearing a ridiculous suit or not. However, researchers from five UK universities are clubbing together on a new project called “Towards Real Virtuality” (see what they’ve done there?), which is developing a headset that will simulate all five human senses.

The object of the project is to develop what the team calls a "Virtual Cocoon," which the researchers describe as a "device that can stimulate all five senses much more realistically than any other current or prospective device." Originally initiated by researchers at York and Warwick universities, the Real Virtuality project has now received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and researchers from the universities of Bangor, Bradford and Brighton have now also been brought into the fold.

A mock-up of the Virtual Cocoon was displayed at Pioneers 09 yesterday, which is an EPSRC showcase event at Kensington’s Olympia Conference Centre. The University of York’s Professor David Howard, the lead scientist on the project, explained that “Virtual Reality projects have typically only focused on one or two of the five senses – usually sight and hearing. We’re not aware of any other research group anywhere else in the world doing what we plan to do.”

So how does the team plan to go beyond sight and hearing? Howard claims that “smell will be generated electronically via a new technique being pioneered by Alan Chalmers and his team at Warwick which will deliver a pre-determined smell recipe on-demand. Taste and smell are closely linked but we intend to provide a texture sensation relating to something being in the mouth. Tactile devices will provide touch.”

A number of applications have been suggested for the technology, including virtual tourism, and the EPSRC gives the example of finding out what it was like to live in Ancient Egypt, including the look, sound and smell of the streets. The team aims to make the Virtual Cocoon as light and comfortable as possible, especially in comparison with existing Virtual Reality headsets, and “optimise the way all five senses interact, as in real life.”

The final aim of the project is to stimulate the senses to such a degree that “the user has a fully immersive perceptual experience, during which s/he cannot tell whether or not it is real.” However, Howard was keen to point out that the team also planned to “closely evaluate the full, far-reaching economic and other implications of more widespread application of Real Virtuality technologies for society as a whole.”

Do you think you could really lose yourself in a Virtual Cocoon to the point where you didn’t know where you don’t know what’s real? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

Via Science Daily

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