Scent’s purpose in virtual reality

OVR Technology makes a device that adds scent to any VR headset. It’s got applications across wellness, training, and entertainment.

(Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

Digital scent tech has a long history of failures, from Smell-O-Vision to iSmell, an attempt to perfume the internet.

But what about VR, a medium designed for immersion? That’s what Vermont-based startup OVR Technology is all about.

Co-founder Aaron Wisniewski has a background in food science…

… and worked as a chef and sommelier before founding flavor and fragrance company Alice and the Magician in 2013.

He told The Hustle he was blown away by how real VR felt, but — given his background — the thing that was missing was smell.

How it works

OVR’s scent device, ION, straps to the bottom of any VR headset and connects via Bluetooth. It contains a replaceable cartridge that Wisniewski describes as “a salt shaker filled with scented liquid.”

In OVR’s demo, you can pluck roses and roast marshmallows. As you do, the device releases scent molecules. Smells intensify and fade with proximity to VR objects.

An engineering hurdle with similar devices has been the ability to create — and clear — scents without filling a room. OVR’s tech can do that, and the medium helps.

“VR or AR [are spatial technologies] that you can personalize. You can have 100 people having a different experience right next to each other,” Wisniewski said.

There are 3 main applications

Health and wellness: OVR’s meditation experience, INHALE, is being used at rehab and detox clinics.

Albert “Skip” Rizzo, Ph.D, director for medical VR at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies, uses VR exposure therapy to treat PTSD in veterans, immersing them in war simulations to confront and reprocess memories.

Rizzo told The Hustle that because smell is connected to memory, “we theorize that it would add value to the already compelling audio-visual stimuli presented in VR.

Training: Field medics, who must learn to perform in stressful situations, might face bad smells like gunpowder, burning rubber, or bodily fluids.

Arts and entertainment: Games, theater, and storytelling. OVR recently partnered on “Shifting Homes,” an experience that explores storms exacerbated by climate change in Samoa.

Currently, ION isn’t available to consumers, but you might see it at festivals, pop-ups, and installations soon.

Fun fact: The Void — a VR attraction with touch, temperature, and scent — shut down amid the pandemic. But it might be coming back.

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