CES 2023: New sensory tech allows users to touch, smell virtual environment

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Multiple companies and startups unveiled augmented reality glasses and sensory technologies at the tech event CES in Las Vegas last week. Company representatives said these technologies would allow users to feel and smell a virtual environment.

One of these companies was the High Tech Computer Corporation (HTC) from Taiwan, which showcased a high-end VR headset that offers its users the aforementioned sensory function.

Another candidate, OVR Technology from Vermont, showcased a headset equipped with a cartridge containing eight primary aromas that could be combined to create different scents.

Company CEO and co-founder Aaron Wisniewski said it provided extended reality with commerce, entertainment, education, social connection and well-being.

“We are entering an era in which extended reality will drive commerce, entertainment, education, social connection, and wellbeing,”

Aaron Wisniewski, CEO and co-founder of OVR Technology

Previously, OVR also demonstrated a business-focused version of the headset aimed at beauty product and fragrance manufacturers. This version comes with an app that the company described as a combination of digital spa and Instagram that could help consumers relax.

“The quality of these experiences will be measured by how immersive and emotionally engaging they are. Scent imbues them with an unmatched power,” Wisniewski said.

Experts’ impressions of VR sensory technology

Experts said VR technologies still have a long way to go to replicate more immersive uses of scent and taste. According to him, these technologies are more accessible in their early stages of development, with the final versions being too expensive for customers.

Consumer Technology Association (CTA) vice president and CES organizer Steve Koenig also said the metaverse was perceived with skepticism recently, and customers at the event were not impressed with what they found.

Koenig’s statement regarding customers’ first impressions of this technology was supported by one of the participants at the event, tech consultant Ozan Ozaskinli from Istanbul.

Ozaskinli tested one of the products at the event, and the experience was a letdown. During the trial, he was equipped with yellow gloves and a black vest that allowed him to sense the virtual world through buzzes and vibrations that stimulated a sense of touch.

“I think that’s far from reality right now,” Ozaskinli said. “But if I was considering it to replace Zoom meetings, why not? At least you can feel something.”

Recent data from research firm NPD Group suggested that VR headset sales declined by two percent last year, despite being a popular device for gaming.

Regardless of the waning interest in the metaverse overall, Koenig said it is still shaping up through various applications and devices, with many companies still showing interest in this technology. Microsoft, Meta and many others have already invested billions in the development of supporting technologies for the metaverse.

Implementation of sensory technology in services

Several company representatives said that the widespread adoption of virtual reality, with sensory abilities, would greatly benefit different parts of society.

While sensory technologies are currently still in the early stages, many companies do not have virtual reality in their procedures for the time being. Instead, they use augmented reality to provide services for customers.

In 2021, neurosurgeons from John Hopkins Medicine said they had used augmented reality in spinal surgery to remove a tumor from a patient’s spine.

Lumus, an Israeli-based company that manufactures AR glasses, uses optical technology to assist underwater welders, fighter pilots and surgeons.

The company’s vice president of marketing, David Goldman, said this technology enables its users to monitor progress without having to look at several screens.

Boston startup Xander manufactures smart glasses that display real-time captions of direct conversations for people with hearing loss.

Xander co-founder and CEO Alex Westner said they are currently focusing on launching a pilot program with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to test some of their technology next month.