Digital synesthesia: Tricking your brain into experiencing smell as temperature in virtual reality

Synesthesia is the fascinating neurological phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense involuntarily triggers another sensory pathway. A synesthete might taste sounds or hear colors. Now, computer scientist Jas Brooks and colleagues from the University of Chicago are creating a kind of digital synesthesia by using odors to trick your brain into experiencing different temperatures in virtual reality. For example, capsaicin, the chemical in hot peppers, triggers a warm feeling while eucalyptol elicits a cool sensation. Evan Ackerman explains in IEEE Spectrum:

The trigeminal nerve [in your nose] connects your brain to most of your face, and it carries a bunch of sensory information, including both smell and temperature. The actual temperature-sensing mechanism comes from transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels, and while we can skip over exactly how these work, the important thing to understand is that some of these TRP channels can get triggered by either skin temperature or certain kinds of aerosolized chemicals. You’ve almost certainly experienced this for yourself: When you smell peppermint, it feels cold, because the menthol in the peppermint is triggering a receptor in your trigeminal nerve called TRPM8 that responds to both the menthol and temperatures under 25 °C. On the other end of things, capsaicin (which you can find in hot peppers) triggers the TRPV1 receptor, which also responds to temperatures above 42 °C. That’s the key: One receptor that can be triggered by temperature or a chemical, but sends the same temperature sensory message to your brain. The researchers describe this as “a perceptual duality,” and if you aerosolize one of these chemicals and puff it up your nose, you’ll feel a temperature change.[...]

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Is Magic Leap the Theranos of augmented reality?

Augmented reality startup Magic Leap was founded in 2014. It demonstrated a new kind of technology called "light field signal generation" that promised to be far superior to existing augmented reality and virtual reality technology. It received $2.6 billion in funding from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, and Google.

In 2018 Magic Leap released a headset called the Magic Leap One, which almost everyone was disappointed with. The problem with it, according to this Tech Crunch article is that Magic Leap pulled a bait-and-switch. It did not use light field signal generation. It used  the same kind of technology found in other augmented reality headsets released by Microsoft and others years earlier.

It appears Magic Leap was unable to sufficiently miniaturize the groundbreaking technology. From Tech Crunch:

As The Information’s Reed Albergotti revealed more than three years ago, “The Beast” was Magic Leap’s original demo box. It was everything people said. It was stunning, dreamlike, breakthrough technology. And it weighed “several hundred pounds.”

“The Beast” was followed by “The Cheesehead,” which fit on a human head, and “showed they could miniaturize the light field signal generator they’d invented” … but still weighed “tens of pounds,” obviously far too heavy for any real-world applications. (There are pictures of both in the linked CNET piece.)

“The Beast” and “The Cheesehead” help explain the multiple rounds of massive venture investment. But then — could Magic Leap miniaturize their breakthrough technology further, to anything actually releasable?

Clearly they could not, and that’s the crux of the matter, the answer to how and why Magic Leap raised $2.6

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Oculus Quest and Rift S now shipping

Oculus Quest, the so-called 'iPod of VR', is now shipping.

I spoke with the CEO of Sennheiser about audio, virtual reality and the notion of legacy

Working as a technology journalist is a privilege that allows me to play with hardware that I could never afford to own. Last week, while I was in Montreal for the opening of Sennheiser's new Canadian office, for example, I was able to spend some quality time with the company's crazy $50,000 made-to-order HE 1 headphones. For a guy that reviews audio hardware for a living, it was a ridiculous treat.

There are times that the privilege of doing what I do extends beyond all of the gear that I get to play with. Among the Sennheiser employees, audio nerds like me, and other folks attending the company's opening day bash was Dr. Andreas Sennheiser. Andreas, an electrical engineer by trade, has been co-CEO along with his brother Daniel of their family's 70-year-old audio company for the past five years.

Here in North America, Sennheiser is mostly known for their professional audio products -- microphones and reference headphones for the rich and musically famous, and conference-call hardware for high falootin' boardrooms. In Europe, Asia and Africa, the German company's footprint in consumer audio is massive. They’re one of the oldest names in audiophile-grade headphones and an early, much-respected maker of audio hardware designed to augment virtual and augmented reality experiences.

They make cool shit.

Once the celebration was over and the caterers had absconded with the all of leftovers, Andreas was good enough to spend a few minutes with me, talking about his company, his family and the notion of legacy. Read the rest

Battle Daft Punk with Darth Maul style in VR rhythm game Beat Saber

Beat Saber is a VR version of music rhythm games like Guitar Hero. This cool demo plays in Darth Maul mode while taking the "Harder Better Faster Stronger" challenge. Read the rest

Astonishing VR experience lets participants experience a dangerous border crossing

CARNE y ARENA is a timely virtual reality project from Lucasfilm, Industrial Light & Magic, and Skywalker Sound that allows people to feel the terror of being apprehended by border patrol. Read the rest

Snooker champ plays VR snooker, falls over because it feels so real

San Francisco's Computer Museum boasts a state-of-the-art virtual reality pool program that feels so real that the tester, snooker champ Ronnie O'Sullivan, falls over after trying to lean on the VR table. Read the rest

Watch a demo of the latest VR production tools

Virtual reality is now available at prosumer-level price points, and the race is on in the same way 2D filming reached the masses twenty years ago. Matt at Cinematography Database takes a quick spin through Oculus Medium. Read the rest

Ordering ice cream in VR is dangerous

I have questions about this VR ice cream incident. First, where is this taking place? And second, was the ice cream vendor intentionally trying to kill the customer?

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Musician covers Jamiroquai's 'Virtual Insanity' in virtual reality

Singer-songwriter Chase Holfelder of Raleigh, North Carolina did something cool. He used virtual reality to perform a cover of Jamiroquai's 1996 hit "Virtual Insanity." With an HTC Vive rig, he made all the sounds and instruments needed to play the song.

He explains how he did it in this behind-the-scenes video:

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Every Oculus Rift headset knocked offline after certificate expires; midnight brings relief

Oculus Rift headset users were unceremoniously dumped out of virtual worlds and back into the real one, yesterday, and it was all because of an "expired certificate". The workaround, until they fixed it: setting the clock back.

Oculus co-founder Nate Mitchell promised a quick fix on Reddit, which was released late last night.

Rift is back online as of ~12am. This was a mistake on our end, and we apologize. Folks impacted by today's downtime will be provided with an Oculus store credit. More details to follow soon. Thanks again for everyone's patience as we worked through this one.

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Watch a virtual reality Haptx glove in action

This Ready Player One fan, who wasn't an admirer of virtual reality, test drives the Seattle-based Haptx haptic glove. The experience converts him into a VR "believer." The Haptx glove isn't yet on the market, but according to their press release, will be available to "select customers" this year. Read the rest

Video tour of VR World NYC

This video report looks at the current state of consumer arcade VR with VR World’s Head of Content Tommy Goodkin. Read the rest

Elders check out VRChat for the first time

In Elders React to VRChat, a group of senior citizens put on their VR headsets and explored the online social space of VRChat for the very first time. There are some amusing moments when other players say inappropriate things to them but, overall, they liked the experience.

I think Libby nails it on the head when she said, "This is really good for people who don't want to go out and socialize. 'cause they can socialize in their own space." Read the rest

Gamers witness VRChat player having a real-life seizure and aren't sure what to do

Players in VRChat were surprised to see another gamer experiencing an apparent seizure in-game. The video of the incident, uploaded by YouTuber Rogue Shadow VR, is rather surreal. You see a red robot writing around on the ground, unable to communicate. Soon, the mood changes in the room and all the cartoon-y avatars come to see what is going on. When he does come to, the community, save a few bad eggs, does their best to help and comfort him.

The robot, who goes by the moniker DrunkenUnicyclist, shared with Kotaku:

“I honestly don’t remember a lot of it. I do remember feeling cold all the sudden. After that, I woke up and I was on the floor. I could hear these voices.” DrunkenUnicyclist added that he has had a seizure in the past, when he was five, although he says he doesn’t suffer from epilepsy or any other condition that might have caused this.

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Watch a mathematician explore non-euclidian geometry with a VR headset

Mathematician Henry Sagerman and colleagues developed a cool way to observe non-euclidian geometry from a new vantage point: inside the geometry itself via virtual reality. Read the rest

Paralyzed student experiences Burning Man through VR

Musical theatre student Evan W. Gadda has heard stories about Burning Man but hasn't made the journey himself. He is asthmatic. and because of cerebral palsy, paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, so making the trip to Black Rock City has been deemed impossible, until now. Through a HTC Vive VR headset, he has been able to attend the desert event virtually.

His response? "Oh my God."

The team at University of Nevada, Reno who created the experience for Gadda, also sent him to Squaw Valley to (virtually) ski, something he hasn't done since he was 15 years old. It brought him to tears.

Here are the two videos he watched:

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