Credit: FeelrealMost people are content to see other worlds. Not the folks at Feelreal--they want people to be able to see, hear, smell and feel what it's like beyond our reality. No, that doesn't mean they're introducing people to psychedelics. It means they're selling an accessory that allows popular VR headsets to provide multi-sensory experiences in apps, games and videos designed to take advantage of all those other facets of the human experience.
Feelreal isn't the first to offer additional stimulation in VR. CamSoda announced in January 2017 that it developed a product called OhRoma to make its adult entertainment with different scent cartridges. When we reviewed the Pimax 5K + M2 pre-production headset in September 2018, we noted that the company was working on a smell simulation module for its headset. It's likely others are working on similar products.
Aromas will be available from the Feelreal Store. The company plans to offer pre-made sets, individual aroma packets and custom aromas with prices varying based on the exact smell being replicated. Feelreal has already created sets based on the initial games and experiences to support it, including Beat Saber. For example, the VR aroma set for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim include scents for patchouli, wildflowers and dragon. We aren't kidding.
But Feelreal isn't just about smell. If it were, they probably would've called it Smellreal instead. The mask is also supposed to offer the following sensations: heat, wind, vibration and water mist. The heat is provided by two micro-heaters, the wind by micro-coolers, the vibration by haptic feedback devices and the water mist by an "ultrasonic ionizing system" via two notches located on the cheeks. VR controllers vibrate, too, for additional immersion.
Feelreal said its mask will improve everything from games and videos to meditation and adult VR--which the company wasn't afraid to highlight. It said: "With vibration, smell, heat, and air, you know Adult VR will get even better. You’ll be able to smell the perfume, feel the soothing breath on your lips and even experience the tingle of a kiss on your cheek. Full sensory VR means maximum sensual stimulation." Emphasis theirs.
Far be it from us to judge, but we're having a hard time relating to the desire for this much stimulation in VR. Part of that is because Feelreal's product makes already kind of doofy-looking VR headsets look even more preposterous, which we didn't know was possible. The second reason has to do with the suspension of disbelief. It's one thing not to make a faithful recreation of real life when our imagination can fill in the blanks, but if the product or its implmentation has any flaws, it'd be more difficult to be constantly distracted by smells, temperatures and vibrations that might not feel right for that particular moment.
Maybe this mask won't have those problems because the sensations it offers are more accurate than we expect. Or maybe we're just approaching it with the wrong mindset, and all the people who want to smell their adult entertainment are right. There's no way for us to know until--or rather unless--we try something like Feelreal for ourselves. Until then, our concerns amount to little more than thinking something doesn't smell right.
Right now Feelreal is raising money on Kickstarter for the initial production run of its multi-sensory masks. The project had an all-or-nothing goal of raising $20,000 by May 10; at time of writing it's already raised just over $50,000 from 225 backers.
The Feelreal mask will reportedly be compatible with the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, Sony PlayStation VR, Samsung Gear VR and "more." The kit is expected to cost $300 at retail, but Kickstarter backers can take advantage of numerous discounts and bundle deals to bring costs down. Feelreal expects to start shipping in August.