Zuckerberg’s developers have created virtual reality gloves that transmit tactile sensations. Experts expect that a full-fledged “Internet of Senses” will become a reality in 10 years. Let’s find out what consumer gadgets with the ability to transmit touches, smells and tastes will look like.
Technology “Internet of Senses” will become a reality in 10 years
You want to pet your cat but at the same time you don’t want to spend money on food, clean up after it and think where to put it while you are away? It seems that this desire is already quite feasible. Meta Reality Labs, a division of Mark Zuckerberg’s company, has developed a haptic glove that provides an almost real sensation when touching or stroking virtual objects.
The inside of the device is dotted with pads that respond to sensor readings and change pressure, thus creating the illusion of touching something with your hand. According to Michael Abrash, the head of MRL, if you look at an object (like a ceramic plate) on the screen and “touch” it at the same time, the feeling is incredibly convincing. The glove is supposed to be part of the interface for interacting with the “metaworld” that Mark Zuckerberg announced a month ago.
Creating a fully immersive experience in a fantasy world is a dream that people have been trying to achieve for a long time. But early experiments in this direction, as is often the case, did not come out the most successful.
Fragrance in binary code
With the spread of electronics and the Internet, a new fix idea arose: to encrypt smells in the form of a digital code and transmit them with synthesizer devices. After all, all compounds are made up of chemical components. This means that we can try to encode them, record them on media and transmit them in a digital form anywhere, and already in the place of reception – translate electronic signals into the necessary aromatic “notes”. Of course, a special device would be needed for “listening”.
Two friends, Joel Bellenson and Dexter Smith, came up with the idea for such a system in the late 1990s. “We wanted to make a printing press for smells,” Bellesnon recalled. – We weren’t just interested in the device – we were looking to redefine the sensory experience itself.” Bellenson was a molecular biologist and Smith an engineer. Later, their startup developed an impressive team, including programmers from Sega and NEC, telecommunications specialists from Sprint PCS, and experts from the perfume industry.
As early as 2001, Bellenson and Smith’s company DigiScents introduced a finished product: the iSmell odor synthesizer. It was connected to a computer via a serial cable. When visiting certain sites, opening programs or receiving files with special code, bottles with fragrance oils inside the synthesizer were selectively heated, and the result was blown out through a vent. Each vial contained a “primary” fragrance, and in all, the device allowed for hundreds of unique compositions: from orange peel to burning wood.
DigiScents ran an active marketing campaign. They made a big bet on the video game industry and forged partnerships with giants like Sony and Microsoft. Film producers Dreamworks, Dolby and IMAX also showed interest in integrating iSmell with their products. More than 5,000 game developers have downloaded “ScentTracker” (software for interactive “scent” games) in a year. The DigiScents site was viewed up to 4 million times per month.
On the wave of iSmell’s apparent success, an entire industry emerged. However, in just one year, sales plummeted. Strangely enough, it was not because of the technology itself. Yes, sometimes the synthesizer deceived expectations – for example, the residue from the previous smell remained on the heating elements and distorted the subsequent perception. But on the whole, it lived up to the description. Still, in 2002, the company closed down. And in 2006, iSmell repeated the “achievement” of Smell-O-Vision – it was named one of the 25 worst technical products of all time (this time by PC Magazine).
Analysts said there was no real demand for such devices. “The big question is whether consumers will want the iSmell as much as they want the MP3,” wrote The Wire, a major technology magazine. – The solution to the marketing problem will determine whether the product becomes a favorite toy for millions or is consigned to oblivion.” “They (the developers) kept talking about a technological revolution, but it turns out that’s not what people want,” said Mark Conter, the technical consultant hired to work on iScent. “Nobody wakes up at 3 a.m. thinking, ‘Let me forward that smell to somebody,'” said David Edwards, founder of DigiScents’ rival firm, OPhone.
Is it time for the Internet of Senses?
In 2019, Ericsson ConsumerLab published a study on 10 major consumer trends for the next ten years. The authors surveyed 12,590 people who described themselves as regular users of augmented reality (AR) devices, virtual reality (VR) or virtual assistants. The main forecast concerned the emergence of the “Internet of Senses” – an economy of services that engage all the senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch by 2030. Accordingly, the market for consumer devices with the ability to transmit and receive sensory information will grow.
The majority of respondents expect immersive online shopping, which will allow them to learn more about the qualities of the product before they buy it. 63% of them agree that very soon smartphone manufacturers will add the ability to feel the shape and texture of digital icons and other virtual objects. And 60% say that by 2030 engineers will create special bracelets capable of stimulating the various senses.
According to another Ericsson ConsumerLab survey “Dematerialized Office”, in which top managers participated, remote work can lead to a workplace with a full simulation of presence – including in the form of smells. Nearly half of those surveyed agreed that over the next 10 years it will become possible to digitally enhance the taste of food – to make it easier for people to follow strict diets, for example. Sort of like a “digital spoon.”
“The pandemic will likely only spur this demand,” cyberpsychologist Sergey Semenov reflects. – Many companies are moving to remote work, meetings and even meetings of friends are held via video link. Important for us people and events are present in the form of flat pictures. There is a dissonance between the opportunities that some aspects of technology offer – such as being available at all times – and the barriers that others create. Companies will strive to overcome this and make the experience of using their devices more holistic.”