'Virtual Cocoon' Helmet Lets You Smell, Taste, Touch

Within a few years, you might be able to strap on a helmet, slip your hands into a pair of gloves and be instantly transported to a far-off planet, ancient Egypt or a city across the world.

Researchers in five British universities are working to develop what they call the Virtual Cocoon, a virtual-reality system that engages all five major senses.

Current VR helmets only deliver sight and sound and, although they've been around for some 20 years, haven't exactly caught on with the public.

"Virtual reality projects have typically only focused on one or two of the five senses — usually sight and hearing," explains David Howard of the University of York in a press release from Britain's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). "We're not aware of any other research group anywhere else in the world doing what we plan to do."

To that end, the team is working on efficient ways to engage three other senses.

"Smell will be generated electronically via a new technique being pioneered by Alan Chalmers and his team at [the University of] Warwick which will deliver a pre-determined smell recipe on-demand," says Howard. "Taste and smell are closely linked but we intend to provide a texture sensation relating to something being in the mouth. Tactile devices will provide touch."

FoxNews.com can see some problems with this approach — unless the team also engages the subtle but important senses of balance and body positioning, it's likely that some wearers would experience the sort of nausea you get from watching a shaky-camera movie.

A prototype of a Virtual Cocoon helmet was unveiled Wednesday at Pioneers 09, an EPSRC showcase in London.

The EPSRC is funding the research.

• Click here for the press release.

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