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.

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Hackaday Links: October 23, 2022

There were strange doings this week as Dallas-Forth Worth Airport in Texas experienced two consecutive days of GPS outages. The problem first cropped up on the 17th, as the Federal Aviation Administration sent out an automated notice that GPS reception was “unreliable” within 40 nautical miles of DFW, an area that includes at least ten other airports. One runway at DFW, runway 35R, was actually closed for a while because of the anomaly. According to — because of course someone built a global mapping app to track GPS coverage — the outage only got worse the next day, both spreading geographically and worsening in some areas. Some have noted that the area of the outage abuts Fort Hood, one of the largest military installations in the country, but there doesn’t appear to be any connection to military operations. The outage ended abruptly at around 11:00 PM local time on the 19th, and there’s still no word about what caused it. Loss of GPS isn’t exactly a “game over” problem for modern aviation, but it certainly is a problem, and at the very least it points out how easy the system is to break, either accidentally or intentionally.

In other air travel news, almost as quickly as Lufthansa appeared to ban the use of Apple AirTags in checked baggage, the airline reversed course on the decision. The original decision was supposed to have been based on “an abundance of caution” regarding the potential for disaster from its low-power transmitters, or should a stowed AirTag’s CR2032 battery explode. But as it turns out, the Luftfahrt-Bundesamt, the German civil aviation authority, agreed with the company’s further assessment that the tags pose little risk, green-lighting their return to the cargo compartment. What luck! The original ban totally didn’t have anything to do with the fact that passengers were shaming Lufthansa online by tracking their bags with AirTags while the company claimed they couldn’t locate them, and the sudden reversal is unrelated to the bad taste this left in passengers’ mouths. Of course, the reversal only opened the door to more adventures in AirTag luggage tracking, so that’s fun.

Energy prices are much on everyone’s mind these days, but the scale of the problem is somewhat a matter of perspective. Take, for instance, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which runs a little thing known as the Large Hadron Collider, a 27-kilometer-long machine that smashes atoms together to delve into the mysteries of physics. In an average year, CERN uses 1.3 terawatt-hours of electricity to run the LHC and its associated equipment. Technically, this is what’s known as a hell of a lot of electricity, and given the current energy issues in Europe, CERN has agreed to shut down the LHC a bit early this year, shutting down in late November instead of the usual mid-December halt. What’s more, CERN has agreed to reduce usage by 20% next year, which will increase scientific competition for beamtime on the LHC. There’s only so much CERN can do to reduce the LHC’s usage, though — the cryogenic plant to cool the superconducting magnets draws a whopping 27 megawatts, and has to be kept going to prevent the magnets from quenching.

And finally, as if the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been weird enough, the fact that it has left in its wake survivors whose sense of smell is compromised is alarming. Our daily ritual during the height of the pandemic was to open up a jar of peanut butter and take a whiff, figuring that even the slightest attenuation of the smell would serve as an early warning system for symptom onset. Thankfully, the alarm hasn’t been tripped, but we know more than a few people who now suffer from what appears to be permanent anosmia. It’s no joke — losing one’s sense of smell can be downright dangerous; think “gas leak” or “spoiled food.” So it was with interest that we spied an article about a neuroprosthetic nose that might one day let the nasally challenged smell again. The idea is to use an array of chemical sensors to stimulate an array of electrodes implanted near the olfactory bulb. It’s an interesting idea, and the article provides a lot of fascinating details on how the olfactory sense actually works.

Translate Color To Smell With Bouquet

Hope springs eternal for Smell-O-Vision. [Niklas Roy] recently taught a workshop called Communication Devices at ÉCAL in Lausanne, Switzerland. Four of his Media & Interaction Design students built a scanner that detects colors and emits a corresponding scent.

The project consists of an Arduino connected to a color sensor as well as a SparkFun EasyDriver. The EasyDriver controls a stepper motor which rotates a disc of scent swatches so you sniff the swatch corresponding with the color. The students chose strawberry for red, and blue ended up being “ocean”-scented room spray.

With design students involved it’s no surprise the project looked good. Bouquet’s creators [Erika Marthins], [Arthur Moscatelli], [Pietro Alberti] and [Andrea Ramìrez Aburto] gave the device an intriguingly featureless look, and the “olfactory graphic design” posters they created to demonstrate it look great as well.

[Niklas Roy]’s excellent projects have graced the pages of Hackaday many times before. Be sure to check out his RC Beer Crate, his Music Construction Machine, and his Thermal Imaging Rig if you haven’t already.

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Your VR Doesn’t Stink (Yet)

What does it smell like when the wheels heat up on that Formula 1 car you drive at night and on the weekends? You have no idea because the Virtual Reality experience that lets you do so doesn’t come with a nasal component. Yet.

Shown here is an olfactory device that works with Oculus Rift and other head-mounted displays. The proof of concept is hte work of [Kazuki Hashimoto], [Yosuke Maruno], and [Takamichi Nakamoto] and was shown of at last year’s IEEE VR conference. It lets the wearer smell the oranges when approaching a tree in a virtual environment. In other words, it makes your immersive experience smelly.

As it stands this a pretty cool little device which atomizes odor droplets while a tiny fan wafts them to the wearer’s nose. There is a paper which presumably has more detail but it’s behind a pay wall so for now check out the brief demo video below. Traditionally an issue with scent systems is the substance stuck in the lines, which this prototype overcomes with direct application from the reservoir. Yet to be solved is the availability for numerous different scents.

This build came to our attention via an UploadVR article that does a good job of covering some of the scent-based experiments over the years. They see some of the same hurdles we do: odors linger and there is a limited palette that can be produced. We assume the massive revenue of the gaming industry is going to drive research in this field, but we won’t be lining up to smell gunpowder and dead bodies (or rotting zombies) anytime soon.

The more noble effort is in VR applications like taking the elderly and immobile back for another tour of places they’ll never again be able to visit in their lives. Adding the sense of smell, which has the power to unlock so many memories, makes that use case so much more powerful. We think that’s something everyone can be hopeful about!

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