The odor machine comprises four valves connected to a tube, while a central fan sucks air into it. With the help of the computer, the user can control the four valves, which provide different mixtures of scents, that resemble the smell of real-life items. As a proof of concept and for demonstration purposes, the scientists developed the Nosewise Wine Game, in which users experience a virtual wine tasting. The goal is to guess the type of wine based on its scent. The game has different levels of difficulty with increasing levels of complexity. ‘In the same way that a normal computer game becomes more difficult the better the player becomes, the scent game can also challenge players who already have a sensitive nose. This means that the scent machine can even be used to train wine tasters or perfumers,’ says Jonas Olofsson, professor of psychology and leader of the research project at Stockholm University.
Besides gaming, the technology can also be used for medical and educational purposes. People who lost their sense of smell or taste, after a COVID-19 infection or other viruses, can train and regain their senses through the olfactometer. As recommended by doctors, smell training is a successful method for recovering your smell, but with traditional methods, people lose interest quickly. Thus, a game-based training approach could increase therapy success rates.
AN INTERACTIVE VR GAME INVOLVING SMELL
The research group around scientists from Stockholm (see more here) and Malmö University (see more here) brings a sense of smell to VR gaming. Entering the Nosewise Wine Game, the players find themselves in a virtual wine cellar. There, they select virtual wine glasses from a bar containing different types of wine. The participants hold the small scent machine, which is attached to the VR system’s controller, and when they lift the glass, it releases a scent. This way, the participants seek to find the aromas of each option, and score with a correct guess.
‘The possibility to move on from a passive to a more active sense of smell in the game world paves the way for the development of completely new smell-based game mechanics based on the players’ movements and judgments,’ says Simon Niedenthal, interaction and game researcher at Malmö University.
the scent is delivered by a handheld smell machine | image © William Fredborg/Stockholm University
ACCESSIBLE TECHNOLOGY THROUGH OPEN SOURCE
According to the scientists’ site, all codes, blueprints, and instructions for the machine are openly available online. The same applies to the code of the virtual wine-tasting game. Being open and accessible to everybody, the research group hopes that scented computer games will become useful for other purposes.
According to Simon Niedenthal from Malmö University, ‘open source’ leads to promoting accessibility, reproducibility, and comparison of results in research. It also contributes to creating a cohesive research and design community within the game development field. ‘But it also means that the costs of the equipment are greatly reduced, which makes it available to more people. To us, that is important,’ says Simon Niedenthal. ‘We believe in open science, that research results should be made available to the public and that other researchers should be able to repeat our results. With the help of our research, others can build scent machines and explore new ways of using scents in games,’ says Jonas Olofsson.
‘I hope that the fact that drawings and code are openly available as “open source” will lead to an opportunity for game companies to start creating new, commercial products for scent training using the new technology,’ adds Olofsson.
the olfactometer makes it possible to smell in VR environments | image © SCI LAB/Stockholm University
image © SCI LAB
name: Nosewise Wine Game
developer: Peter Lundén, research engineer at Stockholm University and member of the research team at SCI LAB
funded by: the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation