The UAE get a taste of Metaverse’s olfactory potential
DUBAI – Sniffing online could become a reality with new technology taking hold in the United Arab Emirates, thanks in large part to government policies attracting innovation metaverse startups.
Open AI’s ChatGPT, released in November 2022, served as a glimpse into the possibilities of tomorrow’s human-artificial intelligence relationships. However, many futurologists find this limiting and wish for more immersive technologies that allow humans not only to talk to AI, but also to touch, taste and even smell in virtual reality environments.
The UAE is investing in the economic potential of the Metaverse. In 2022, the Dubai Metaverse Strategy was developed to engage 1,000 companies in the industry, support 40,000 virtual jobs and increase Dubai’s gross domestic product by US$4 billion by 2030.
It’s attracting the likes of Alistair Pernigo, a 21-year-old Italian inventor frustrated by the limitations of digital experiences and markets that don’t understand the metaverse’s potential for humanity. He co-founded Auralink, a startup for advanced technologies for detecting, analyzing and reproducing odors.
Pernigo is the inventor of Meta-nose, a device that can detect gaseous particles and convert them into digital data. According to Pernigo, the human nasal apparatus can identify thousands of smells, including coffee, fresh grass and mold, with more than 95% accuracy.
He told Al-Monitor that the Emirates understand the potential of the metaverse. “Dubai has the vision,” he said.
“We’re trying to transform the way we interact with fully sensory technologies and digitally reproduce the full range of aromatic experiences,” said Pernigo.
The self-funded startup is also researching a wearable device that can transmit digital smells to the human brain. Through a node attached to the scalp, it sends an electrical signal to the olfactory system to create the perception of an odor.
The technology is still in its infancy and has its limitations. The scents it conveys are limited and still inconsistent, Pernigo said, but its potential is promising compared to other existing models.
“Stockholm and Malmö universities reproduce smells with a cartridge that releases chemicals into the air, but that’s not really scalable,” he said, requiring bulky cartridges to be shipped to users, a practice that’s unrealistic and costly.
Pernigo aims to expand Auralink’s research and capabilities in Dubai with the help of venture capital investor Sharad Agarwal, who believes few global markets are equipped to develop innovative companies like Auralink.
“Dubai has the ecosystem. It is the first city to have a metaverse strategy and measure Web3’s contribution to the economy using the gross metaverse product,” said Agarwal. The metric was coined in 2022 by the UAE Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Omar Al Olama.
Established in March 2022, Dubai’s Virtual Assets and Regulatory Agency has created bespoke rules, guidelines and incentives for working in the metaverse and licensed companies working with virtual assets.
While tokenomics like non-fungible tokens and cryptocurrencies have been at the heart of decentralized technology usage called Web3, Agarwal said they have the potential to work hand-in-hand with immersive technologies like digital smelling for commercial use at perfume brands and food and beverage companies.
“Imagine the marketing power of a restaurant that can allow consumers to smell their signature burger or freshly baked bread remotely by stimulating their senses online,” Web3 solutions company’s chief Metaverse officer told Cyber Gear Al monitor.
Andrew Thomas, the chief executive of growth marketing agency NEXA, said the immersive technology commercial industry, valued by market research provider Precedence Research at $21.66 billion in 2021, is still in its infancy.
The company noted that North America accounted for 45% of the world market share in 2021 and that the industry is expected to reach $134.18 billion by 2030.
Interest is currently exploratory, Thomas said, and in the United Arab Emirates government company drive it forward. The country’s Ministry of Economy created it Metaverse Department last year along with several other government agencies.
“Police in the Emirate of Ajman have created a metaverse experience where you can hear conversations around you and walk up to an officer’s virtual avatar and ask them questions,” he said, citing spatial audio and visual perception as the most common immersive technology tools in the metaverse.
Thomas said it will take many years for the metaverse and immersive technology space to see widespread adoption. While there are already ocular headsets that virtually teleport users to metaverse environments for an immersive experience, he said it would take a company like Apple or Microsoft to create a device that would regulate the virtual medium for everyone.
Currently, the UAE is one of the few countries that is really engaged in exploration Web3 and allows the market to grow with minimal constraints, Thomas added.
“What they’re doing is creating an environment that allows people to come here, develop their ideas, and then test them on people who are willing to get involved,” he said.
Pernigo plans to move its company to Dubai in July to cultivate its meta-nasal odor detector and demonstrate its potential. He told Al-Monitor that Auralink’s digital nose device was able to detect mold growth in food supply chains before it was visible.
In medicine, it has potential to detect irregular physiological functions such as cancer cell development by recognizing unique olfactory patterns, he added. So far, its immersive technology is able to identify 44 diseases by sniffing different types of organic tissue.