The metaverse looking for problems to solve

Las Vegas (United States) (AFP) – Smelling imaginary roses, learning hunting maneuvers in augmented reality or treating Alzheimer’s with virtual reality: at the Las Vegas technology fair, startups compete for ideas to build the metaverse, convinced that we are going to be increasingly immersed in the virtual.

The 2023 edition of CES, which ends on Sunday, was marked by the emergence of olfactory technologies.

OVR has developed an accessory that plugs under the virtual reality (VR) headset to diffuse scents. The user can thus smell smoke from a virtual campfire and smell a roasted marshmallow.

Smell is essential to the metaverse, according to Sarah Socia, vice president of OVR, because it is “the only sense that is directly connected to the limbic system, a part of the brain crucial for memory and emotions.”

The start-up from the US state of Vermont presented a prototype frame that also includes cartridges for chemical odors and allows you to create perfumes through a mobile application.

The user associates them with videos to later share with friends – if they have the strange tiara.

Aromajoin, a Japanese competitor, is also betting on the adoption of these devices.

“Most people don’t know what they need. It’s like before smartphones, we didn’t know what place they would occupy in our lives,” said SeonHoon Cho of Aromajoin.

A comparison taken up in chorus by many metaverse start-ups confronted with circumspect observers.

“Prefrontal Cortex”

In late 2021, Facebook changed its name to Meta to focus “on the future of the internet”, as described by Mark Zuckerberg, head of the social networking giant.

A visitor to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas tests bHaptics’ haptic gloves, January 3, 2023 © Robyn BECK / AFP

But last year, Meta’s profits plummeted due to the economic crisis, and the tens of billions of dollars invested in that direction drew an avalanche of criticism.

“Currently, the metaverse is met with skepticism. And it’s true that the term remains quite speculative,” admits Steve Koenig, vice president of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which organizes the program.

“But the metaverse is starting to have substance, we can see the different applications. It’s like being in the early 90s, when we were talking about the internet without being able to imagine everything that was going to happen”.

For AjnaLens, virtual immersion represents the solution to the problem of unemployment and lack of skilled labor.

The Indian company produces the AjnaXR, a mixed reality headset (virtual and augmented), lighter and more functional than the existing models, so that users can use it for hours.

Its customers, industrialists, use it to teach workers to handle various tools (welding, painting, etc.), coupled to controllers or manipulated virtually with haptic gloves (sensational feedback).

“VR has a multiplied impact on the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain where you store things for life,” says Pankaj Raut, co-founder of Ajnalens.

The AjnaXR mixed reality headset, unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, helps train people in various industrial trades, such as handling a paint gun, on January 6, 2023
The AjnaXR mixed reality headset, unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, helps train people in various industrial trades, such as handling a paint gun, on January 6, 2023 © Patrick T. Fallon / AFP

“It’s like when you learn to ride a bike, you never forget.”

mixed reality

SocialDream also feels the need to create its own mixed reality headsets, adapted to its immersive videos to stimulate the memory of Alzheimer’s patients.

“Dreamsense is not a helmet, the image is projected onto a bubble”, describes Thierry Gricourt, founder of the French start-up. “The face is not tight, no lenses that hurt the eyes, it is easier to clean and the sensors measure emotions in real time.”

The flagship headsets, those from Oculus (Meta) and Vive (HTC), as well as accessories such as haptic suits, were initially designed for video games.

CTA expects 3.1 million VR headsets sold in the US this year (+20% from 2022) and more than 380,000 augmented reality or “AR” glasses (+100%).

A journalist conducts a virtual orchestra using the HTC Vive Elite mixed reality headset unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2023 in Las Vegas on Jan.
A journalist conducts a virtual orchestra using the HTC Vive Elite mixed reality headset unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2023 in Las Vegas on Jan. © Patrick T. Fallon / AFP

According to an Accenture survey of 9,000 people, more than half of consumers “want to be active users of the metaverse” as soon as possible.

But in the immediate future, excluding video games, professional uses seem to be consolidating more quickly.

Red 6 is currently testing its augmented reality system to train fighter pilots in aerial maneuvers (fuelling, combat, etc.).

They see other planes, friend or foe, in their visors. Training therefore costs much less, pollutes less and is less dangerous.

“The metaverse is sort of a solution in search of problems. We did the opposite. We found a use case for technology that solves core problems,” said Daniel Robinson, founder of Red 6.

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