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VR Interfaces: Scent Dome


Overview of Scent Dome
Of all our senses, smell is our most primal. Animals need the sense of smell to survive. Although a blind rat might survive, a rat without its sense of smell can't mate or find food. Smell can also be used to navigate: you cannot see that peat bog beyond the forest yet, but you can certainly smell it.

Smell cannot tell us too well a direction, only that something stinky is nearby. We rely on other senses to find out where, smell just warns us that it is nearby, when the source may be out of sight and beyond hearing. Removing the smell from the equation takes away one of our senses, abstracts the realism of the environment.

How often have you identified someone by their perfume or after shave? Been tempted to buy some food based only on the wonderful smell wafting out? Breathed deeply in as you open a new jar of coffee? Held your nose as you?ve walked past a dung heap?

Scents and smells are ubiquitous, they are part of our everyday world. Yet, when you enter VR worlds, you almost always lose your sense of smell. Sight is covered, hearing is covered via speakers, even touch is covered via haptic gloves and other accessories. Smell usually remains abandoned, lacking hardware to cover it.

The Scent Dome, manufactured by TrySenx inc, was the first serious attempt to create a smell peripheral. First launched in early 2004, and still with us today, the scent dome works by storing a cartridge of twenty base aromas, each of which can be released individually in set amounts, or mixed and matched by the control software in differing amounts to create almost any possible smell.

Scent Dome is designed to increase the immersion of any VR experience, by adding smell to any presentation or immersive world. The value of smell is immeasurable. As the company blurb itself says: ?The Scent Dome allows mechanics to learn to identify defects by the smell of a burnt wire, surgeons to identify perforated organs by the sudden smell, children to learn about distant places, whilst being surrounded by the aromas of the land, gamers to smell the sulphur before the danger is in sight.?

Plugging into the pc by either serial or USB cable, the device is about the size of a small label printer, and easily tucks away on the desk. When turned on, it waits for a control code to be sent, which can be embedded in any world, game, PowerPoint attachment, word document, or even email ? anywhere ? then ?prints? a waft of smell into the air above it, carefully mixing and matching fragrances to the instructions the computer gave to it, to create exactly the right odour.

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