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Scent-sational science: VR sniffs out new ways to enhance olfactory senses

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Technology has made great strides in providing extremely vivid images and sounds, but has made little progress in the realm of scent.

That might change if researchers come up with new ways to bring the sense of smell into the digital world and even find meaningful uses for it.

on the nose

Can you imagine an immersive virtual reality (VR) experience that includes scent? Researchers from Stockholm and Malmö Universities have created an olfactometer, an olfactory device that can be used in conjunction with a gaming computer.

To demonstrate its use, researchers created a VR simulation set in a wine cellar. In this simulation, players try to guess the aromas “emitted” from different types of wine.

“The possibility of moving from passive to more active olfaction in the game world paves the way for the development of entirely new olfactory-based game mechanics based on player movements and decisions. Games researcher at Malmö University, according to a statement.

The olfactometer has four different valves, each connected to a channel that the player can control via a computer to create different scent mixtures.

A machine attached to the controller of the VR system emits a scent when it detects that the player has lifted the glass.

The game has different levels of difficulty with increasing levels of complexity.

“Just like regular computer games get harder as you get better at them. Scent games can challenge players who already have sensitive noses.

“This means that the scent machine can also be used to train wine tasters and perfumers,” said research team leader Jonas Olofsson.

The researchers have made the code for the virtual wine tasting game, along with the blueprints and instructions for the machine available online, in the hope that it will find other useful purposes.

“For those who have lost their sense of smell, for example after Covid-19 or for other reasons, new technology could represent an opportunity to regain their sense of smell with the help of game-based training,” added Olofsson. rice field.

sniff out cancer

Last year, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States and Perelman School of Medicine in Penn announced they had developed a non-invasive approach to screen for hard-to-detect cancers such as those of the pancreas and ovaries.

This odor-based tool, which sniffs out vapors emitted by blood, claimed to be able to distinguish between benign and pancreatic and ovarian cancer cells with an accuracy of up to 95% in tests.

The tool has an electronic olfactory system (“electronic nose”) equipped with nanosensors tuned to detect the composition of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by plasma cells.

Researchers then used artificial intelligence and machine learning to decipher the VOCs. Previous studies have shown that VOCs released from tissues and plasma of ovarian cancer patients differ from those released from patients with benign tumors.

According to researchers, the system has been trained and tested to identify VOC patterns associated with cancer and healthy cells within 20 minutes.

They are working with healthcare company VOC Health to commercialize the device for use in research and clinical applications.

understand the scent

People can lose their sense of smell due to brain injuries or health challenges such as COVID-19.

IEEE Spectrum reports that Professor Richard Costanzo of Virginia Commonwealth University in the United States hopes to help people regain their sense of smell through the development of an olfactory neuroprosthesis.

It consists of sensors similar to commercially available electronic noses that detect odors and send information to implants in the brain.

Implants (arrays of electrodes) simulate corresponding signals in the brain.

This concept is similar to how cochlear implants work to help people with hearing loss.

Costanzo’s colleague Daniel Coelho, professor of otolaryngology at VCU and cochlear implant expert, explains:

Professor Costanzo demonstrated the workings of the prototype using a mannequin head adorned with glasses and electronics.

When he held a vial of blue liquid over a small sensor, an LED (which represents brain signals) glowed blue and his phone indicated it was the cleaning agent.

When he waved the purple liquid, the sensor correctly detected it as mouthwash.

Costanzo and team are now focused on enabling the sensor to detect more odors and finding the best interface to pair with the brain.

Commercial devices aren’t likely to be available anytime soon, he said, adding, “I think it will take a few years to crack these nuts, but I think it’s doable.”

Odor screening

Here is a technology that is ready to enter the market unlike other technologies that are in their early stages.

Nikkei Asia reported that Sony plans to release an olfactory device next year that will act as an early warning system for signs of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

According to Sony, the device tests a person’s sense of smell. This is because it can be a sign that you are about to develop dementia or Parkinson’s disease, possibly due to deterioration in neurological function.

The system, called the Tensor Valve, does this by releasing a series of intense scents that the user must identify.

The test takes just 5-10 minutes and the patient’s sense of smell is rated on a scale of 1-8.

The device is priced at US$15,900 (RM75,300).

Osamu Hashimoto, vice president of new business and technology development at Sony, which makes the PlayStation 5 game console, is looking at ways to use the device in the entertainment sector.

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