Immersion in the VR headsets of today can only get you so far. The lenses do a great job of filling your eyes, and some controllers offer haptics to help trick your hands, but there's room for a lot more to make you believe you are actually in a virtual environment. The folks at FeelReal have made an accessory designed to sit under the headset and provide additional information to your face.
Here's where things get weird. The kind of information FeelReal provides you with a sense of smell and moves on with increased vibration and a few extra tricks.
The prototypes for FeelReal on display at GDC are a little on the clumsy side, designed to help you see what is possible, not what you'd actually purchase when this product becomes available. The face mask includes a pair of vibration motors, air fans, and a cartridge with eight unique scents to pull from. When used correctly, the design is meant to rumble your head to match the vehicle you are in and help you feel the wind against your skin as you move through the air in VR. And when you lean down to smell a virtual flower, you get an actual scent in response.
Hopefully this idea spends a little more time in the oven, so we get something cool when it is ready.
In practice, wearing the headset through several experiences, the current product is pretty rough. The vibration in the headset was distracting and didn't really feel like the right kind of vibration to match what I was seeing. I could hear the fans kick on, and when the airflow changed direction in the demo there was no way for the mask to compensate for the change in direction. When the woman in the demo passed me a beautiful bunch of flowers, my nose was filled with a sharp, almost harsh perfume that didn't match what I was looking at.
These immersion boosting concepts are not unique, but they are difficult to reproduce in your home. Those Star Wars and Ghostbusters VR experiences created by The Void offer airflow and scent and more to make you feel like you're really there, but those environments are tightly controlled to give you that effect. FeelReal isn't trying to miniaturize that experience so you can have it anywhere, and with a little fine tuning and some third-party developer support, there's a good chance this could eventually be a great accessory to just about any VR headset. Hopefully, this idea spends a little more time in the oven, so we get something cool when it is ready.