Cheating receptors allowed the VR-helmet to transmit heat and cold through the nose

American engineers have developed a nozzle on VR helmets, through which the user can feel heat and cold. Despite the effect, it does not physically change the temperature of the human body — instead, she hollowed out the nose capsaicin analog and a menthol cineole, which activate the receptors of temperature and thereby cheating the trigeminal nerve, causing it to transmit signals to the brain about temperature change. Because cineole, unlike capsaicin, has its own mint, the device may add to the air blown out several masking agents. Development was presented at the conference CHI 2020, and the authors received the award for the best article.

Virtual reality device usually does not cover the entire spectrum of human senses, only sight and hearing. Because of this, the user is in an intermediate state in which it receives information from both reality and the virtual world. Engineers have been working hard to iron out this discrepancy in the signals from different organs, inventing a device to simulate a sensation. They usually use the direct approach: for example, if it is necessary to simulate the resistance of the virtual object, for that use propellers, pressing on hand.

Pedro lópez (Pedro Lopes), together with his colleagues from the University of Chicago chose a new design another approach, in which the device utilizes the natural neural mechanisms for a more realistic simulation. They didn’t use direct heat parts of the body or face, and the features of the receptors of heat. The fact that the sensation of cold or heat from the person responsible ion channels transient receptor potential (TRP). Their main function is that they are activated and opens the channel for ions when reaching the threshold temperature: receptor TRPM8 is activated at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius and below, and TRPV1 at a temperature of 42 degrees and above. After activation signals from receptors are sent via the trigeminal nerve in the brain and the person feels cold or heat.

But these receptors can be activated and defined substances: TRPV1 is activated by capsaicin, and TRPM8 by menthol and several other substances. That is why hot peppers seem hot to us, and mints on the contrary, cold. Engineers used this principle to create a sense of heat and cold in a VR-helmet. To do this, the nozzle on the helmet there is a small pump and bottles with liquids. The spray coming from the pump, is placed directly under the nose and hollowed out of the substance on command.

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