Immersive technologies that can improve lives, whether it’s helping people treat dementia or learning to fly fighter jets, are the future of the metaverse, virtual reality startups say.
Some entrepreneurs at the annual CES gadget festival that ends Sunday in Las Vegas were eager to combine the real and virtual worlds to help people stop and smell the roses.
OVR Technology has created an accessory for VR headsets that treats users around a fake campfire to puffs of smoke and roasted marshmallows.
Smell is essential to the metaverse, said Sarah Socia, vice president of the OVR, because it is “the only sense directly connected to the limbic system, a part of the brain crucial for memory and emotions.”
The Vermont-based startup also has a prototype of another device that can hold user-created scent cartridges through a mobile app.
Japanese “digital scent technology” company Aromajoin is also betting that the Metaverse will be a place of many smells.
“It’s like before smartphones, we didn’t know how much they would play in our lives,” Aromajoin’s SeonHoon Cho said of fragrance in the virtual world.
When Facebook changed its corporate name to Meta in late 2021, it signaled faith in the metaverse becoming the center of online life, and the company continues to invest in that future despite suffering earnings.
“The metaverse these days is very likely to be met with skepticism,” said Steve Koenig, vice president of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which organizes CES.
“I think the term metaverse is still somewhat speculative in nature.”
But the metaverse is starting to take shape across various apps and devices, Koenig said.
Indian company AjnaLens believes that immersive online experiences can help solve problems of unemployment and lack of skilled labor.
The company has designed a mixed reality (virtual and augmented) headset AjnaXR, which is lighter than existing models so that it can be worn comfortably for hours.
Companies use it to teach workers how to handle tools for jobs like welding and painting, adding joysticks or haptic gloves that bring a hands-on feel to the experience.
“Virtual reality has a ripple effect on the part of the brain where you store things for life,” AjnaLens co-founder Pankaj Raut told AFP.
“It’s like when you learn to ride a bike, you never forget it afterwards.”
French startup SocialDream has also designed its own mixed reality headset tailored to the content of its virtual world – imagery that boosts memory in Alzheimer’s patients.
Founder Thierry Gricourt said he wanted to project the videos “in a bubble”.
His prototype, named Dreamsense, “isn’t tight on the face, and the lenses don’t hurt the eyes,” Gricourt said.
“And there will be sensors that measure emotions in real time.”
The Oculus meta unit and competing HTC VR headsets are still primarily used for gaming at this point.
CTA expects 3.1 million VR headsets to be sold in the US this year, a 20% increase from 2022, while sales of augmented reality glasses are expected to double to more than 380,000.
For now, businesses seem to be embracing the technology more enthusiastically than non-gaming consumers.
The Red 6 company is testing an augmented reality system to train fighter jet pilots without the expense and risk of actual flying.
“Right now, the metaverse is kind of a solution looking for trouble,” said Red 6 founder Daniel Robinson.
“What we’ve done is quite the opposite. We’ve found a really compelling use case for the technology, solving some critical problems that actually need to be solved.”