Applications and Tools

This World Stinks: Adding Sense to Virtual Worlds

Wired reports that researchers are working to add touch, taste and smell to virtual worlds, dubbing the effort “real virtuality” to differentiate it from virtual reality, virtual worlds, world realities, really real, virtually real, and smell-o-rama. The technology clearly will not be a mobile application, unless you don’t mind plugging a helmet into your iPhone.

Says Alan Chalmers of the University of Warwich Digital Lab: “The crucial thing for ‘real virtuality’ is that it will hit all five senses in a highly realistic manner. You can’t ignore the crossmodal effect. We need to have smell, we need to have taste.”

Um. We do? Maybe in the course of a day, or while we’re having dinner, but I kind of like the idea that I can have a meeting in a virtual world without the, um, inconveniences of smell and taste (well, depending who bought the donuts I guess, some people choose better than others).

“Drawing on cognitive neuroscience literature about how the brain prioritizes sensory inputs, they can deliver the right level of detail with maximum engineering efficiency. Cognitive neuroscientists call these crossmodal attention affects. For example, when you pay close attention to one thing — say someone’s voice on the telephone — you pay less attention to your peripheral vision. Using that information could allow the researchers to build a VR system that functions with far less brute force than you might think was necessary — stimulating one or two senses at a time, rather than all of them at once. Howard compared it to the way the JPG format compresses image files.”

So – the senses encoded and shipped like image files.

In the future, copybot will have a whole new meaning, I suppose, and the paparazzi won’t just be trying to capture photos anymore, they’ll be scent hunting.

The article concludes by saying “Now all they need is money” to which I reply – haven’t these guys heard of earmarks yet?

(File for future reference).

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