Science Takes on All the Senses

Author:  Charley Wang
Institution:  University of Toronto
Date:  April 2009

Picture this: You're sitting on a grassy field in the Savanna, watching the sun set while the birds chirp around you and a cool spring breeze tickles your face. Then you turn on the TV to catch the evening news. Sound impossible? Maybe not.

On March 4th, researchers from the Universities of York and Warwick presented a prototype of their Virtual Cocoon at Pioneer 09, a science event in London, England. The Cocoon will be a physical demonstration of something dubbed Real Virtuality' by the researchers. Through this device, researchers say, users will be able to visualize, touch, taste and even smell virtual objects.

This is potentially groundbreaking work. According to lead scientist Professor David Howard from the University of York, Virtual Reality projects have typically only focused on one or two of the five senses – usually sight and hearing. Howard states, "We're not aware of any other research group anywhere else in the world doing what we plan to do."

With help from scientists at the Universities of Bangor, Bradford and Brighton, the team hopes to eventually simulate and coordinate all five senses in one handy helmet. The helmet itself will be a panoply of LEDs, speakers, fans to blow hot/cold air, a smell tube' (designed by researchers at Warwick) and tactile sensors. A key objective of the researchers is to develop the helmet such that all five senses can interact to give life-like, real sensations.

This Real Virtuality technology creates immense possibilities for businesses through to recreational facilities and everything in between. Initial estimates peg the price of a fully developed Cocoon at around $3,000, which is about the same cost as some higher-end plasma TVs today.

Written By: Charley Wang

Reviewed by: Brandy Sullivan, News and Features Editor Matt Getz and Professional Reviewer Lois Alexander

Published by Falishia Sloan