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International Association of CyberPsychology, Training, and Rehabilitation

Virtual Presence: Cybertherapeutic Benefit of Digitally Delighting the Big Three

Technology allowing for "virtual communication" of touch, smell and taste  -- by digitally delighting these senses -- can go a long long way to increasing the sense of presence. It may also provide some important therapeutic benefits.

Our world is truly dominated by stimulus energies (we've prioritized in an evolutionary sense) which tend to be either auditory or visual sensory signals to convey our most important information.

Though there remains a powerful brain-altering pathway -- most other organisms still sequister -- chemical signals mediating through the sense of smell and taste.  These are typically way more important and are used more often than other sensory signals amongst our animal friends. And, while the world of communication using chemicals is alien for us, it still wields tremendous influence.  In being unaware of how important chemical signals are to other organisms, we often overlook (or take for granted) the influence of chemical signals in our own life.

A combination of cultural focus on visual and auditory signals and a general, collective ignorance due to the lack of information about chemical communication in both popular and scientific writings informs the basis for this naïveté.  Ironically, in many instances, a narrative of chemical signals offers the nervous system more detailed and accurate information than any other mode of communication. Yet this sensory animating realm remains virtually ignored as popular media focuses on visual and auditory signals.

Three senses (that mimic our emerging sensory awareness of our sense of place even in the womb) appear pivotal in creating a future sense of "presence" in any virtual realm.

So technology allowing for "virtual communication" of touch, taste and eventually smell -- by digitally delighting these senses -- can go a long long way to increasing the sense of presence. It may also provide some important therapeutic benefits.

A couple of leaders in haptics, for instance,are Ultrahaptics (a creator of tactile sensations in mid-air which continues solid investor funding  for“virtual touch” technology using ultrasound to project shapes and textures directly onto the hands) & Go Touch VR , which is developing a simple, surprisingly effective haptic device and received a boost of  €837,000 (approx. $1,1 million) in venture capital for ongoing development in 2018.

In the instance of smell it's clear scientific backing is established with research published in the journal Virtual Reality (researchers from the University of Ottawa found the addition of smell when in a VR environment "increases the sense of presence"). 
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308955652_Exposure_to_an_u...

As well as on-going work @ Samsung's C-Lab exploring Touch On The Brain (TotB) and the Imagineering Institute technology to artificially create and modify smell sensations with the world’s first computer controlled digital device developed to stimulate olfactory receptor neurons with electrical pulses.
http://imagineeringinstitute.org/press-release-electric-smell-machi...
Additionally, a derivative that adds taste to the mix is the Vocktail – short for virtual cocktail – a glass made to alter and augment your taste via a phone app.
Once a liquid is poured into the glass, a drinker can change aspects influencing taste by using tongue-stimulating electrodes placed around the rim. Plus, a tube in the side of the glass releases gases with different smells, such as lime, that cement the perception of a flavor even more.
One company delivering a "multi-sensory promise in a box" is Sensiks. Its actually a sensory reality pod to sit in & totally immerse in VR experience, augmenting headset visuals with a set of exterior wind, light, scent and heat sense simulators - or, as founder Fred Galstaun puts it, "full sensory symphonies."
"Within a closed controlled environment where all the senses, including audio-visual, are made 360, there is no difference for the brain anymore between real and fake. It has become reality for the senses," he reports.

Galstaun calls his pods—which are currently used in medical institutions for PTSD trauma recovery and with mentally disabled and elderly patients—sensory reality or SR for short. "We place SR next to VR and AR, a brand new product category in the programmed reality scene.

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