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Startups hope to bring Smell-O-Vision to virtual life

Illustration by Kate Walker

Startups hope to bring Smell-O-Vision to virtual life


Future. Startups all around the world are trying to bring a sense of smell to the metaverse. With smell being a vital part, not just of how we experience the world, but of how we imprint memories, figuring out scents may be a vital part of getting people to subconsciously want to return to a virtual world.

Pungent pixels
Sight and sound are cool, but what the metaverse will really need is smellsFastCompany highlighted some companies trying to make you stop and smell the pixels:

  • OVR Technology. The Vermont-based startup uses a Bluetooth-enabled snap-on cartridge called the “ION” to release custom scents when they are cued digitally.
    • They hope to release a consumer version next year.
  • OW Smell Digital. The U.K.-based startup is working on an A.I., cloud-based “Photoshop for smell” that allows users to create a variety of scents that can be overlaid into digital experiences.
  • Olorama Technology. Based in Spain, the company has built scent-releasing boxes that can be voice-activated.

Despite all the promising developments, the past decade saw the demise of scent-forward projects like the “multisensory VR mask” created by Feelreal and Vaqso’s “clip-on cartridge-and-fan combo.”

The entertainment world has tried to introduce smell into the equation before with Smell-O-Vision in the 60s. But that petered in popularity pretty quickly, thanks to a growing sense that smell was somehow the least important of the senses. A 2018 study confirmed that — 64% of British Millennials said they would rather sacrifice smell than their smartphone.

But, as many people can now attest, losing your sense of smell to COVID is a destabilizing experience. Smell does more than just smell — it triggers olfactory neurons to “create unconscious, physiological responses.” If the metaverse is supposedly going to mimic the qualities of real life, it’s going to need all the scents it can get.

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