Simulating Temperature In VR Apps With Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation

Virtual reality systems are getting better and better all the time, but they remain largely ocular and auditory devices, with perhaps a little haptic feedback added in for good measure. That still leaves 40% of the five canonical senses out of the mix, unless of course this trigeminal nerve-stimulating VR accessory catches on.

While you may be tempted to look at this as a simple “Smellovision”-style olfactory feedback, the work by [Jas Brooks], [Steven Nagels], and [Pedro Lopes] at the University of Chicago’s Human-Computer Integration Lab is intended to provide a simulation of different thermal regimes that a VR user might experience in a simulation. True, the addition to an off-the-shelf Vive headset does waft chemicals into the wearer’s nose using three microfluidics pumps with vibrating mesh atomizers, but it’s the choice of chemicals and their target that makes this work. The stimulants used are odorless, so instead of triggering the olfactory bulb in the nose, they target the trigeminal nerve, which also innervates the lining of the nose and causes more systemic sensations, like the generalized hot feeling of chili peppers and the cooling power of mint. The headset leverages these sensations to change the thermal regime in a simulation.

The video below shows the custom simulation developed for this experiment. In addition to capsaicin’s heat and eucalyptol’s cooling, the team added a third channel with 8-mercapto-p-menthan-3-one, an organic compound that’s intended to simulate the smoke from a generator that gets started in-game. The paper goes into great detail on the various receptors that can be stimulated and the different concoctions needed, and full build information is available in the GitHub repo. We’ll be watching this one with interest.

10 thoughts on “Simulating Temperature In VR Apps With Trigeminal Nerve Stimulation

  1. This will obviously never be used for anything remotely related to adult human sexuality or intimacy, right?

    Also, one should ask the kinkier community what senses TENS, well, simulates because it can be more than just the trigeminal nerves; despite being potentially somewhat kinaesthetic communication related.

    There are more than just hearing and seeing products already out there on wide spread commercial markets.

  2. Add the smell of shit to the olfactory experience alongside the capsaicin and you can transport yourself virtually into a prison environment and experience what COs have to put up with Every Single Day.

      1. It’s not the razor wire that keeps them in. It’s the Corrections Officers. It’s an awful job that must be done and I’m glad there’s others to do it so I don’t have to.

        Actually, Matt makes a good point that this could be used in training for socio-hostile environments such as prisons, protest and riot control, etc. to weed out those that cannot manage their emotions.

  3. I am pretty sure 8-mercapto-p-menthan-3-one is not odourless, as most small molecules containing a mercapto group have a distinctive smell, often of the fecal persuasion.
    A quick Google search confirms this.

  4. Stop spreading the lie we only have 5 senses. It’s a myth that dates from Greek or so and it’s completely limiting our perception of our abilities. We are able to orientate in a gravitational field (Equilibrioception), typically, like an IMU. You know where your feet is without looking at it (Proprioception). You can evaluate the speed of your arm to stop exactly where you want if you have a knife (Kinaesthesia). You can evaluate the temperature of something with or without touching it (Thermoception). You can feel the pain even inside your body (Nociception). You can feel how much time has gone even without visual clues like in a dark cave (Chronoception). You can feel electricity with your tongue or any part of your body or without even touching it if it’s electrostatic (Electroception). Some might even feel electric field outside their body.

    Few people are able to locate the North/South even without any visual clues (Magnetoreception).

    So, we are far from only 5 senses.

    1. I would take what you’re saying more seriously if your statement didn’t begin with a demand. Wouldn’t matter if you even demanded it politely. Rather you could say “did you know that humans can…” or if you want to sound better than others you could do a “most people believe… but this is not true.” I think what you’re talking about is abilities, not senses. Most of the things you mentioned I would group into touch, because it uses nerve endings in your skin to detect them.

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