At CES 2023, smelling and touching will be the most important things.

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (AP) —Are we closer to the metaverse than we think?

It depends on who you ask at CES, where companies are showing off new technologies that could make virtual reality, or VR, more real.

The metaverse, which is basically a buzzword for three-dimensional virtual communities where people can meet, work, and play, was a big topic at the four-day tech conference in Las Vegas that ends on Sunday.


HTC, the Taiwanese tech giant, unveiled a high-end VR headset designed to compete with market leader Meta.A number of other companies and startups also showed off augmented reality glasses and sensory technologies that let users feel and even smell in a virtual environment.

Vermont-based OVR Technology showed off a headset with a cartridge that has eight main smells that can be mixed together to make new smells. It is planned to come out later this year.

An older, more business-oriented version that was mostly used to market perfumes and beauty products is built into VR goggles and lets users smell everything from a romantic bed of roses to a marshmallow roasting over a campfire.
The company says it wants to help people relax and is marketing the product, which comes with an app, as a kind of digital spa mixed with Instagram.

Aaron Wisniewski, CEO and co-founder of the company, said in a statement, “We are entering an era in which extended reality will drive commerce, entertainment, education, social connection, and well-being.” “The quality of these experiences will be judged by how immersive and engaging they are on an emotional level.” “Smell gives them a power that can’t be matched.”

But more powerful and immersive uses of smell and its close relative, taste, are still a ways off in terms of innovation. Experts say that even VR technologies that are easier to use are still in their early stages and cost too much for most people to buy.


The numbers show that interest is going down. The NPD Group, a research company, says that sales of VR headsets, which are often used for gaming, dropped by 2% last year. This is bad news for companies that were counting on more people buying their products.

Still, Microsoft and Meta are investing billions of dollars. Many other companies are also trying to get a piece of the market for supporting technologies, such as wearables that simulate touch.

Customers aren’t always happy with what they find, though. Ozan Ozaskinli, a tech consultant who travelled more than 29 hours from Istanbul to attend CES, put on yellow gloves and a black vest to try out a so-called “haptics” product, which sends sensations through buzzes and vibrations and stimulates our sense of touch.

Ozaskinli was trying to enter a code on a keypad that would let him pull a lever and open a box with a shiny gemstone inside. However, the majority of the time was a letdown.

“I don’t think that’s true at the moment,” Ozaskinli said. “But if I were thinking about using it instead of Zoom meetings, why not?” “You can at least feel something.”


Proponents of virtual reality say that everyone will benefit from it in the long run because it will make it easier to be with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Even though it’s too early to tell what these technologies will be able to do when they’re fully developed, companies that want to give users the most immersive experiences are eager to use them.

Flare, a company that will launch a VR dating app called Planet Theta next month, has a chief marketing officer named Aurora Townsend. She said that her team is building the app so that it can include more sensations like touch once the technology is more widely available to consumers.

“When haptic technology is fully integrated into VR, the subtle ways we interact with people will change,” Townsend said. “For example, being able to feel the ground when you’re walking with your partner or holding their hands while you do that.”

Still, Matthew Ball, an expert on the metaverse, doesn’t think that many of these products will become widely used in the next few years, even in games. Instead, he said that the first fields to use haptics and virtual reality are likely to be those with bigger budgets and more specific needs, such as bomb units and others in the medical field.

In 2021, neurosurgeons at Johns Hopkins said they used augmented reality to perform spinal fusion surgery and remove a cancerous tumour from a patient’s spine.

And optical technology from Lumus, an Israeli company that makes AR glasses, is already being used by underwater welders, fighter pilots, and surgeons who want to watch a patient’s vital signs or MRI scans during a procedure without having to look up at several screens, said David Goldman, the company’s vice president of marketing.

Alex Westner, the co-founder and CEO of Xander, said that the company will start a pilot programme with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs next month to test out some of its technology. Xander is a Boston-based startup that makes smart glasses that show real-time captions of in-person conversations for people with hearing loss. He said that some of the agency’s clinics will let veterans who have appointments for hearing loss or other audio problems try on the glasses. Westner said that if it goes well, the agency is likely to become a customer.

In other places, big companies like Walmart and Nike have been putting out different virtual reality projects. But it’s not clear how much they can gain from the technology in its early stages. McKinsey, a consulting firm, says that by 2030, the metaverse could bring in up to $5 trillion. But Michael Kleeman, a tech strategist and visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego, said that most VR use today isn’t much of a big deal besides gaming.

“When people talk about this, they need to answer the question: What’s the point?” How does it help? not what’s entertaining, cute, or interesting.”


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