From scented headphones to neural earbuds, this technology makes the metaverse feel more real

If the metaverse sounds like an empty buzzword to you, some of the tech unveiled at CES, the world’s largest tech show in Las Vegas, could help bring it to life.

In a few years, you can just pick your car from a virtual showroom, take lessons at a digital museum, and try scent-enabled virtual reality (VR) goggles for an immersive, multi-sensory meditation session.

Think of the metauniverse as the Internet in 3D: a virtual environment where you can be – instead of starting from a screen – and where you can meet, work, shop and play.

While Facebook’s mother Meta made headlines for her massive bet on the metaverse, renaming the company and pouring tens of billions of dollars into the concept, she’s clearly not alone.

Carmaker Stellantis is teaming up with Microsoft to create a showroom in the metaverse, while Disney is betting on a concept that will engage fans. Think about being able to get close to your favorite Disney characters or athletes in a virtual environment.

Mark Curtis, co-chair of the Metaverse Continuum Business Group at Accenture Song, said companies should “look for concepts to build upon” as they plan to transition to the Metaverse.

It can be like going to a virtual concert or buying and trying on digital clothes. In companies, it can allow employees with Zoom fatigue to interact virtually with co-workers in a more tangible way than staring at a gallery of video calls.

New digital environments can be in augmented reality (AR), where you see something superimposed on the world around you, or in virtual reality, where you enter a completely immersive space.

“That (VR) is what people usually think of when they think of the metaverse because they think of the headset. But all this will not be it. Many of them will be extended,” Curtis told Euronews Next.

He stressed that these virtual environments could be useful far beyond the shopping experience, such as in financial services, for summoning bank advisers along with 3D visualizations of what your mortgage and personal finances would look like today and in the future.

Creating digital twins is a key promise of the metaverse, but we’re not just talking about cartoon-like human avatars: buildings, products, factories, and supply chains can all have digital twins capable of alerting companies to any issues in real time.

From immersion education to AR in surgery

The metauniverse could also transform or at least supplement education; from kindergarten to university.

The makers of Roybi, an AI educational robot, are launching RoybiVerse where users will be able to visit an area where they will learn about dinosaurs or the human body in an interactive museum-like environment.

There you can magnify the human heart, for example, to learn about the inner workings of the human cardiovascular system.

AR and VR are already working well in healthcare facilities. In Cambridge, England, medical students are using mixed reality headsets to train on “hologram patients”.

The Swiss company Arbrea Labs uses AR and 3D simulation to preview the results of plastic surgery – from nose surgery to breast surgery – for both patients and surgeons.

“This is very important for the patient as it reduces anxiety,” CEO and founder Dr Endri Dibra told Euronews Next.

As with any new and disruptive technology, there are plenty of them concerns around the Metaverse and whether it can enable companies to access even more personal data.

And many people just don’t like the idea of ​​wearing VR goggles or AR glasses. The technology is still bulky, can strain your eyes, and doesn’t feel like something you can wear for very long.

“We’re going to need better glasses,” Roybi’s chief strategy officer Kevin Soltani told CES attendees as he introduced the RoybiVerse.

He described how he would like to see comfortable AR glasses that students could easily use to complete a module they didn’t have time to complete by heading to their next class elsewhere on campus.

Euronews

OVR Technology founder and CEO Aaron Wisniewski demonstrates OVR’s new wearable fragrance technology, ION, at CES in Las Vegas, U.S., January 5, 2022. – Euronews

A headset that will make you smell the metaverse

However, there is one emerging area where futuristic goggles are worth wearing: OVR Technology has developed a headset equipped with cartridges that emit sophisticated scents as you immerse yourself in a virtual environment.

One of them – which Euronews Next tried out at CES this week – is a garden where you can pick roses with your hands, bring them up to your nose and smell their perfume. Another is a bonfire, where you can bake marshmallow on a stick at your discretion (i.e. more or less smoky) and smell it.

By adding scent to these experiences, you not only make them more immersive by increasing sensory input, but you also make them more meaningful

The result is impressive: the scents are subtle enough that suddenly the virtual scene you’re in seems much more real, and you take deep breaths that help you relax and truly enjoy the experience.

Granted, not everyone may enjoy inhaling scented chemicals for very long, but it’s easy to see how the right dose of this technology can work in health and wellness applications such as meditation and mindfulness sessions to reduce patient stress in the hospitals or palliative care.

“I think we can all recall childhood memories of grandma’s spaghetti with meatballs or the perfume of a loved one. But we don’t have the same kind of digital memories,” OVR Technology founder and CEO Aaron Wisniewski told Euronews Next.

“It allows us to create those experiences, have those memories, and connect with each other in a more meaningful way and increase our well-being and happiness.”

To create realistic scents, OVR fragrance refills use a palette of eight basic aromas that you can mix and match or experience yourself.

“It can give us the same variety that we experience in the physical world, but not just recreate the physical world,” Wiśniewski explained.

“With this new palette, we can create new associations, create new experiences that are native to the digital world but are as impactful as the physical world.”

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP

Wisear co-founder Alain Sirois demonstrates a Wisear prototype at CES Unveiled in Las Vegas, U.S., January 3, 2023. – Patrick T. Fallon/AFP

Hands-free controls for Metaverse technology

As VR headsets become more technologically advanced, they are also expensive, still costing hundreds of euros, and many people may balk at the idea of ​​giving voice commands in public or making strange gestures when trying to navigate the metaverse.

Enter Wisear, a French start-up that is developing a next-generation human-computer interface for this wonderful new world: smart wireless earbuds that let you control your device with simple, discreet and touch-free actions like clenching your jaw.

“When we talk about accessibility, it’s essential to have a device that allows you to control your VR headsets and AR glasses in a very accessible, simple, intuitive, touch-free and private way,” co-founder and CEO Yacine Achiakh told Euronews Next.

The technician uses tiny electrodes to read the user’s bioelectrical activity coming from their brain, eyes, and facial muscles, and interprets these neural signals in real time as commands to control the devices hands-free and silently.

Its AI algorithms have been trained to recognize false positives, such as when you chew gum or clench your teeth nervously.

Currently, Wisear technology can be used to answer a call, play a song, press pause or skip to the next, but in the future it can be used to discreetly control activities in an immersive virtual environment.

Wisear is in talks with headphone manufacturers, VR companies, and hearing aid manufacturers in hopes of bringing its technology to market next year.

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