Webster’s defines VR as “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli (as sights and sounds) provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.”
Note: This article was originally published on 2/10/14 and was updated on 3/25/14 by editor Jennifer Markert to reflect recent VR developments.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg announced in a blog post their plans to acquire the virtual reality company Oculus Rift for $2 billion, comprised of $400 million in cash and 23.1 million share of Facebook stocks.
While mobile is the platform of today, Zuckerburg stated that in preparation for the “platforms of tomorrow” Oculus’ innovative technology could become the most social platform ever, changing the way we “work, play, and communicate.”
Here’s a detailed look at the different ways that advancements in VR might change the way we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel the world, with or without Facebook’s help.
Enhancing media with the sense of smell is not a new concept, though the method of delivery has changed quite a bit. Smell-o-visions’ first humble incarnation was simply a fan positioned behind a perfumed rag.
Researchers from the University of California have teamed up with Samsung to take this idea to the next level. The technology uses a polymer matrix of “pores,” each containing different fragrances.
Behind each reservoir is a heating unit; the pores are designed release their scent on cue when heat is applied. The realized product would then be able time and mix the release of different scents to provide a sort of olfactory surround sound.
2. All Touchy-Feely
If we can reach out and touch it, it must be real. Or maybe not. We are entering the age of touch-displays which are called haptics: a display that is to touch what television is to sight.
UltraHaptics, a system designed by researchers at the University of Bristol, is one of the most mind bending technologies in the field. The device provides contact-free stimulation not by black magic, but by passing focused ultrasonic sound waves through an array of speakers or transducers.
By focusing energy in the form of mechanical sound waves, haptic technology cleverly and convincingly produces the feeling of pressure. In their demo, the device is used to adjust levels on a computer. The user can reach out and “grab” a virtual volume slider and experience the sensation of dragging it to the desired level.
3. Taste the brain, bro!
Researchers in Singapore have developed an electronic device that fools the users taste buds into believing that they are enjoying a meal. The “digital lollipop” as its been referred to can replicate six primary flavors: sweet, salty, sour, spicy, minty and bitter.
Though there are obvious recreational applications for a device such as this, the scientists responsible envision the final device as healthy and safe way diabetes patients can get a sugar fix without adversely affecting their blood sugar levels.
4. Eye-Popping Advancements in Gaming
The nearest development on the approaching horizon is known as the Oculus Rift. The Rift uses a goggle-mounted 3D display and surround sound to immerse the user in a gaming experience more real than ever before.
To achieve this new level of realness, the rift incorporates a motion tracking system comprised of infrared position markers on the goggles and a camera to monitor the markers’ position in space. This system and it’s ultra low latency OLED display provide instant and stunning response to even the slightest head movements.
A developer model has already been released, with the consumer model due out this late this year or early 2015.
5. Augmented Acoustics
Dolby 5.1 surround sound seems to be a household name. Heck, any home theater that is worthy of the name is bound to include some variant of 5.1 surround – that’s five mid to high frequency speakers and one low frequency speaker, or subwoofer. Someone, somewhere decided that 6 speakers are not enough to emulate sound from all directions.
Enter Dolby’s newest system: Dolby 7.1 Surround, (because eight Speakers ought to do it). They kept the original six (Left, Center, Right, Low-Frequency Effects/Subwoofer, Left Surround, Right Surround) and added Back Surround Left , and Back Surround Right. Theaters nationwide have caught on to the new standard and have already outfitted their buildings to allow for showings in 7.1.
You’re about to be. The next few years are expected to be full of this kind of innovation. Though we may be a very entertainment-centered society, the technology above is not limited simply to entertainment.