The metaverse looking for problems to solve

Las Vegas (United States) (AFP) – Smelling imaginary roses, learning fighter jet maneuvers in augmented reality or treating Alzheimer’s with virtual reality: at the Las Vegas technology fair, start-ups are competing 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 attaches under the virtual reality (VR) headset to diffuse scents. The user can thus smell the smoke of 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 American state of Vermont presented a prototype frame that also includes cartridges of chemical odors and allows you to create perfumes via a mobile application.

The user associates them with videos to then share with friends – if they own the strange headband.

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

“Most people don’t know what they need. It’s like before smartphones, we didn’t know what place they were going to take 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”

At the end of 2021, Facebook renamed itself Meta to focus on “the future of the internet”, as described by Mark Zuckerberg, the boss of the social networking giant.

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

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

“These days, the metaverse is greeted with skepticism. And it’s true that the term remains quite speculative,” admits Steve Koenig, a vice-president of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which organizes the show.

“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 the lack of qualified labour.

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

Its customers, industrialists, use it to teach workers how to handle different tools (welding, painting, etc.), attached to controllers, or manipulated virtually using 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, presented 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, presented 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 it afterwards.”

mixed reality

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

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

The main headsets, those of Oculus (Meta) and Vive (HTC) as well as accessories such as haptic suits were first designed for video games.

The CTA expects 3.1 million VR headsets sold in the United States this year (+20% compared to 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 presented at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2023 in Las Vegas on January 6
A journalist conducts a virtual orchestra using the HTC Vive Elite mixed reality headset presented at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2023 in Las Vegas on January 6 © 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 taking hold more quickly.

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

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

“The metaverse is a bit of a solution looking for problems. We’ve done the opposite. We’ve found a use case for technology that solves core problems,” said Daniel Robinson, founder of Red 6.

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The metaverse looking for problems to solve


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