Metaverse actors are looking for problems to solve

Smelling imaginary roses, learning fighter jet maneuvers in augmented reality or treating Alzheimer’s disease with virtual reality: at the Las Vegas tech show, startups are competing for ideas to build a metaverse, convinced that we will be increasingly immersed in the virtual.

The 2023 edition of CES, which ended on Sunday, was marked by the emergence of olfactory technologies.

OVR has developed an accessory that attaches to the bottom of a virtual reality (VR) headset to emit scents. The user can thus experience the smoke of a virtual campfire and the smell of roasted marshmallows.

According to OVR Vice President Sarah Socia, smell is important to the metaverse because it is “the only sense directly connected to the limbic system, a part of the brain important for memory and emotions.”

A startup from the US state of Vermont has presented a prototype frame that also includes cartridges of chemical scents and allows you to create fragrances via a mobile app.

The user links them to videos to then share with friends – if they happen to own the weird headband.

Japanese competitor Aromajoin is also betting on the adoption of such devices.

“Most people don’t know what they need. It’s like before smartphones, we didn’t know what place they would occupy in our lives,” says SeonHoon Cho of Aromajoin.

A comparison chorused by many metaverse start-ups has met with wary observers.

– “Prefrontal cortex” –

In late 2021, Facebook rebranded itself as Meta to focus on “the future of the internet,” as the social networking giant’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg described it.

But last year, Meta’s revenues fell due to the economic crisis, and the tens of billions of dollars invested in this direction attracted an avalanche of criticism.

“The metaverse is met with skepticism these days. True, this term remains quite speculative, “recognizes Steve Koenig, vice president of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which organizes the show.

“But the metaverse is starting to take shape, we can see different applications. It’s like being in the early 90s, we can’t imagine everything that will happen when we talk about the internet.

For AjnaLens, virtual immersion represents a solution to the problem of unemployment and the lack of skilled labor.

An Indian company is making a mixed reality headset (virtual and augmented) called AjnaXR that is lighter and more functional than existing models so that users can wear it for hours.

Customers, industrialists use it to teach workers how to operate various tools (welding, painting, etc.), connect to controllers or practically manipulate using haptic gloves (sensational feedback).

“VR has a powerful effect on the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain you keep for life,” says Pankaj Raut, co-founder of Ajnalens.

“It’s like when you learn to ride a bike, you never forget it.”

– Mixed reality –

SocialDream also needs to create a mixed reality headset tailored to its immersive videos to stimulate the memory of Alzheimer’s patients.

“Dreamsense is not a helmet, but an image reflected in a bubble,” says Thierry Gricourt, founder of the French startup. “The face is less tight, there are no eye-damaging lenses, it’s easier to clean, and the sensors measure emotions in real time.”

Accessories such as basic headsets, Oculus (Meta) and Vive (HTC), as well as haptic suits were originally designed for video games.

CTA expects 3.1 million VR headsets (+20% vs. 2022) and more than 380,000 augmented reality or “AR” glasses (+100%) to be sold in the US this year.

According to Accenture’s survey of 9,000 people, more than half of consumers “want to become active users of the metaverse” as soon as possible.

But in the near future, with the exception of video games, professional uses continue at a faster pace.

Red 6 is currently testing an augmented reality system to teach fighter pilots air maneuvers (refueling, combat, etc.).

They see other planes, friendly or enemy, on them. Therefore, training costs less, pollutes less and is less dangerous.

“Metaverse is a bit of a solution in search of problems. We did the opposite. We found a use case for technology that solves critical problems,” said Daniel Robinson, founder of Red 6.

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