Although the Feelreal scent mask for virtual reality isn’t a nicotine vaping system or e-cigarette, it does vaporize aromatic liquids for user inhalation, which according to the company puts it in same FDA certification bracket as those devices. While the company was confident back in November of its chances to pass FDA approval, it’s looming near a final roadblock that could make or break the product.

Feelreal had its first taste of notoriety back at GDC 2015 when the company debuted its public prototype, a sort of smell-o-vision add-on for VR headsets that provided users with a number of scents through a clip-in cartridge system as well as hot and cool wind, water mist, and haptic vibrations. In 2019, the company went on to launch both a Kickstarter and IndieGogo campaign to bring the device to consumers, with the combined funds tallying over $190,000.

Feelreal was originally eyeing deliveries of the $209 device as early as August 2019, although it lagged behind somewhat with a redesign that improved the mask’s attachment to VR headsets, which currently includes Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PSVR, and Oculus Go. The creators also boast out-of-the-box support for games such as Beat Saber, Skyrim VR, and Arizona Sunshine, and has both Unreal and Unity SDKs so game developers can support the mask.

Image courtesy Feelreal Inc.

The Feelreal mask is however based on the same tech as vaping devices, and uses basically the same liquid as e-cigarettes, albeit without nicotine. Back in the heady days of 2015, this wasn’t an issue since vaping was unregulated on a federal level, but then the company hit its first real roadblock. Amidst a pubic health scare surrounding vaping products late last year, the US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced that manufacturers of flavored vaping products would have the opportunity to file for approval from the FDA, but that those products would be off the market until the FDA gave the say so.

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A recent CNN report however maintains that the White House will soon announce an outright ban on most flavored e-cigarettes cartridges, with the exception of tobacco and menthol flavors, putting Feelreal in the position where it either passes a retest very soon and is reclassified, or is outright banned as a flavored vaping product, which would either kill the product entirely or necessitate some sort redesign to get around regulations.

The company issued an update last week addressing some of the FDA regulation issues it’s been facing. You can read it in full below:

Dear backers!

The information we have received from FDA considers all types of vaping devices dangerous to people. Since Feelreal Mask is technically a vaping device, we had to start a new round of testing and improving the product to get a permission for mass production and sales.

We didn’t know about the possible danger when we have started to work on the Mask concept, and we do care about our users health. So if we don’t get the approval after a new series of tests, we will have to close the project. We’re terribly sorry for the inconveniences, but there’s nothing we can do at the moment. We couldn’t imagine that our Mask would fall under such restrictions.

We will put a new update right after we have any new details on this matter.

A company spokesperson managed to answer a few questions in the comment section of the update touching on subjects such as refunds and eventual product redesigns.

“Unfortunately we can’t issue you a refund right now,” the spokesperson told a number of concerned backers. “Since it’s a crowdfunding campaign, all the funds were transferred to the production site. We are doing our best to bring Feelreal to you as soon as possible, but with the best of possible legal procedures. Project is not closed, we just have to postpone the realisation a bit more.”

Image courtesy Feelreal Inc.

The spokesperson emphatically repeats that the project is not cancelled, but in the same breath says that “the whole concept is under restrictions,” which would necessitate a full redesign.

What’s still unclear is exactly what the company’s plan ‘B’ actually is for converting the scent mechanism into something that fits it outside of the category of a vaping product. Much like the popular vaping devices that drew ire from government agencies late last year, the company’s revenue model is geared towards selling a vast array of compatible cartridges with the proviso that users would return to fill up when they ran out, or when a new mix was created for a newly supported game. That recurring revenue model would be in immediate danger if Feelreal decided to simply omit the scent-producing part of the device.

Feelreal is due to comment as new information arises, and considering the impending ban, we expect to hear fairly soon about the company’s plans for the unique VR scent mask.

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  • Trenix

    Vaping is only being banned because it’s hurting tobacco companies. Great way to tell which states are corrupt.

    • johngrimoldy

      Philip Morris (now called Altria Group) owns 1/3 of Juul, the Goliath of vaping products. I think your logic is a little flawed.

      Vaping is raising some eyebrows because it’s an untested flagrant drug-delivery device that tastes like candy and appeals (too much) to the younger demographic.

      The whole idea of VR Smell-O-Vision is a stupid one. It’s been tried before with television and movies. It’s always dumb. This is no different.

      • Trenix

        Is there proof that they’re intentionally targeting the younger demographic?

        • johngrimoldy

          Is there any proof of your original contention of vaping only being banned because it’s hurting tobacco companies? My assertion is patently obvious (and I never said anything about intentions — however, the whole industry ain’t exactly doing anything to NOT appeal to teens)

          • Trenix

            My proof is that tobacco is not banned, but vaping is. Both are harmful regardless.

          • johngrimoldy

            …and that’s proof that it’s banned BECAUSE it’s hurting tobacco companies (by not being banned)? Refer to initial assessment of your logic being flawed.

          • Trenix

            Vaping is getting banned, but tobacco in general is not banned. Cigarettes, cigars, all other tobacco products are not being banned. What don’t you comprehend? Do you know English?

          • johngrimoldy

            Do you realize how effing off topic this is? Let it go man…

      • Trenix

        By the way, I read up on this, he bought a stake of the company. So basically at this point, tobacco companies either have to switch to vaping or risk sales and potentially bankruptcy. It’s the old saying, where if you can’t beat them, join them. That or try to eliminate their competition through regulations, which very common in business.

    • Nice

      Literally people were hospitalized and people were dying. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html

      • David Golden

        And every case was linked to THC products

        • thought you said HTC products for a second there XD

          • Jistuce

            Me too.
            Man, THAT news coverage would be devastating for VR.

        • Raiden

          I’ve heard several times that the problem is not with the THC itself as it is pretty much harmless – all things considered – but with the extra stuff they added to it such as Vitamin E – which has been identified as the main culprit behind those incidents.
          Please do not add fuel to a fire that should not exist in the first place. If anything just say ‘Vitamin E vaps’ instead.

        • Andrew Jakobs

          uhh, no they were not.. There was no link to cannabis related products, it was actually the common vitamine E that seems to have been the culprit.

          • I believe the vitamin E was only ever found to be added to cannabis products however, so it’s a bit of confusion. The UK handled this much better, simply ban vitamin E from being added, there are no other known irritants currently being used.

        • Nice

          Almost, not every. If you would have read the link from cdc, you could see that afair 13% of people having this problems did not used THC products.

      • Uncle Right

        The same as with cigarettes which just take longer for the same effect.

        • Nice

          There’s an element of surprise to current illness situation. You expect that people smoking will have cancer related diseases, but you should be careful when something unprecedented happens. That’s why news is full of murders and terrorist attacks, not people dying from heart and brain diseases, it’s skewed.

      • Trenix

        33 people out of millions? Besides, many of those users didn’t use the products off the shelves, but marijuana oil substitutes.

        • Nice

          That’s how epidemics start – mysterious health problems. Cigarettes kill milions but the problems they cause are not novel.

          • Trenix

            You are what causes mass hysteria.

  • Adam Broadhurst

    With VR being labelled ‘gimmicky'(it’s not) by its detractors it could really do without gimmicky accessories such as this.
    “Out of the box support for Beat Saber” of all things.
    Does dance music smell? The mind boggles….

    • Nice

      There are custom tracks like “Palm Trees”, I’m sure there is something like “candy” or “the world is burning” too. I would like to try a beach flavored beach music pack, if the simulation would be accurate. I have no hope for sceny-making VR tech tho, it’s to hard to get right.

      • I’ll hold off on smell-0-vision until they can pipe the sensation right to my brain, along with visuals, sounds, and touch.

        • Christopher Comer

          Exactly what “BrainStorm” the movie starring christopher walken is based on. If possible, wouldn’t probably be in our lifetime, unless major breakthrough in interfacing to the brain (without intrusion).

        • Nice

          Get ready to lose senses before that becomes reality.

    • Jistuce

      It seems to me that all Beatsaber really needs is an ozone generator for that delicious thunderstorm smell. (I’m assuming lightsab- ENERGY SWORDS rend the air as effectively as lightning bolts)

      No addons required, just leave a laser printer running in the room.

  • Raiden

    In my humble opinion this will never work on a grand-scale until they remove the need of cartridges. Having a very limited amount of smells you can experience on top of which need to be regularly bought and replaced will only aim for a very hardcore market within the already hardcore VR market. In its current form it is not going to ever be popular and its applications are minimal at best.

    The way scent works is basically our nose capturing molecules released by whichever is we are smelling so they would need a device capable of manipulating simple air molecules (such as water) to turn them into something we can perceive as unique smells. Current tech can’t do this and won’t be able to within the next few decades. We will probably reach the Matrix long before this.

    So I guess the best bet for scent simulation would be a non-intrusive device capable of simulating smells through electrical signals to the brain. Something among the lines of galvanic vestibular stimulation devices.

  • Mike Porter

    E-cigs, even the best ones, may produce acrolein by overheating some of the gylcerine or glycol . Same with the best fog machines. Acrolein is a known carcinogen. Some research hints that not enough is produced, but the debate is still up.
    Even without acrolein, gycerol or gylcerine vapor dries your throad and eyes which is not good. I don’t even know about the safety of heating the various odorant chemicals.
    This isn’t one of those cases where we should complain about the government passing restrictions or regulations. Both VR and vapes are attractive and accessible to children, not that the health of adults shouldn’t matter.

    I think they could bypass the restrictions by redesigning the device to use cheap ultrasonic cool humidifiers instead of heater-based vaporizers, but I’ve never cared enough about smell to research this myself to comment further.

    • Jistuce

      “Acrolein is a known carcinogen.”

      “EPA: Potential carcinogenicity cannot be determined because the existing data are inadequate for an assessment of human carcinogenic potential for either the oral or inhalation route of exposure.”

      It is a suspected carcinogen, but that is a different thing.

      If heating the odorants is a problem, then we’ve got a huge industry of scented candles, wax warmers, and air fresheners that needs to be reined in fast. (Are Plug-ins classified as vaping devices now? Please say yes.)

      I suspect ultrasonic atomization uses more power than vaporization. I know it is larger and heavier, which is a major issue for this use case. (It is also not without its own health caveats.)

      • Mike Porter

        I don’t know what research EPA bases their statements on but the WHO had something else to say when I checked in 2014 and that’s what I base my claim on.
        Again, whether acrolien is an issue or produced in enough quantities is half of the problem, drying effect of the glycerol or glycerin vapors in the throat and lungs is an issue itself. When something makes you cough all the time you probably don’t need to check what experts and research has to say to guess it’s bad for you.

        Ultrasonic humidifiers use very small ultrasonic discs for generating the mist, but I’m sure they come in many sizes.

        As for odorants, I don’t care how many products use them in determining whether they are safe or not.

        The last thing we need is headlines of VR being harmful.

        • Jistuce

          Turns out I was looking at outdated info. The EPA quote was from 2009. Over a decade old. Disregard!

  • Atul Salgaonkar

    People generally rate sense of smell very low in terms of importance. However, it is an important component to complete the mosaic of reality; consider our vernacular “this smells fishy” or “take time to smell the roses”. I hope that in future some non-vaping way of bringing that sensation will get developed; it will help VR wave-surfers of tomorrow to smell the ocean air just as VR visitors to Asia will be able to enjoy the aroma of the ripe Durian fruit. Personally, I will like the smell of freshly baked cookies while they pump me with soylent green.

  • What a pity! I guess if all the scent emitters (like VAQSO) undergo the same problem…

  • Jonathan Winters III

    If they ditch the smells and just have wind (with hot, cold or room temp), that might be ok. Otherwise, good luck to them passing FDA testing, as I’m sure it’s only affordable for the big boys.

  • Dave Graham

    This scent mask is a stupid idea – I’m all for immersion but I really don’t consider smell to be a big deal while gaming. With a lot of the locations I visit in games full of dead/rotting things like any zombie game or burnt flesh in a war game, it would not be a pleasant experience if I was smelling that stuff. What smell would I get playing Elite Dangerous? I wouldn’t buy it even for the nice locations.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    Think a better approach and option is drop those vap scents and use fan and heat tech.Driving or running in vr makes the fan turn on and give a feel or real air and wind.If your in a plane and parachute then cold air and if your in a battle like onward or war dust it would incorporate a simple heat fan.Like being hot or fatigued.A shot is fired and zooms pass you.The fan activated briefly on that side of your face.What do you think ?

    • Jonathan Winters III

      Exactly – would be an interesting endevour.

    • brubble

      Dry watery eyes…sound like a plan.

  • visual

    2020, creating solutions for problems that don’t exist.

    • Immersive Computing

      Scent works at LBE venues, not so much for home use?

      The Void used a barbecue smell at “Secrets of the Empire” when crossing the lava from the shuttle, with heat lamps and smell it was very effective.

      • Mei Ling

        A shortsighted way of looking at it. Smell can enhance the feeling of presence regardless of where you’re using VR; be it at home or in a commercial environment. Unfortunately the technology to do it efficiently in a nicely packaged form factor does not exist.

        Right now there are more pressing matters that need to be improved or solved in this emerging industry that clearly take precedence over “smell-o-vision”.

  • Jonathan Pratte

    I couldn’t care less about scents in VR. Sight is a lot more important.

  • MW

    Smell in VR? Talking about the nusea… This is completely failed idea. Something just blowing air on the face has a lot more sense!
    Imitating wind, giving feedback, and cooling down sweaty face. And it is so much easier to get…