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VR Interfaces: The Scent Collar


Overview of The Scent Collar
The Scent Collar was developed jointly by ICT (Institute for Creative Technologies) and AnthroTronix in 2004.

The original intent of the designers to create an entirely virtual environment controlled, personal scent experience to augment the visual and auditory sensory immersion. It is worn round the neck, and has a number of scent cartridges attached to it. (The prototype had four, but any number is possible.)

The Scent Collar was the first scent hardware to be wirelessly controlled via BlueTooth from a VR environment. Games and simulations equally can control the collar from within their code, or even tied in to the relative closeness of a triggering texture to the avatar. Cartridges are refillable, for different scent configurations in different environments.

As scent plays a key role in both learning and memory, adding an olfactory component to a learning environment could reduce stress, improve performance, reduce response times and increase recall, among other possible improvements. Even better, adding it to a social VR experience, of either normal, or adult nature, radically ramps up both the immersive and the emotive experience.

Scent Collar has become one of the key pieces of hardware for military combat simulation:

"The place smells like damp earth and mouldy concrete, a bit like a cellar, reinforced by creepy visuals, and a rat scurrying by, the rustle of its feet chilling the spine. Crawling out of the strange, broken down ruins, you emerge in a forest, by a river, at night. The air is crisp and the aroma of pinewood is all about. After the dank, dark, ruined crawlspace, the change is so refreshing that it distracts you, and you fail to notice the sentry ahead, atop a building peeking over the tree line, standing at a machine gun and looking straight at you."

The passage above, immediately illuminates the value a system like Scent Collar, or any scent interface has for military training.

Indeed, olfaction could be the most important sense, next to sight. A number of researchers believe that smell, more than any other sense, can powerfully and immediately trigger emotions, memories and states of arousal-all of which, when manipulated adeptly, can boost the sense of immersion and thus the quality of training in VR. In short, smellier simulators could produce smarter soldiers. "We started out thinking that the human was a visual animal only," says Roger Smith, chief scientist for the Army office charged with procuring new simulation technology. Sophisticated sound systems followed, and now the military is intrigued by the prospect of tapping the power of smell. "Olfaction is the next step," Smith says.


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