Five Senses Theater - Sense Week

By Dan Knighton

All new movements in technology have to start somewhere. Professor Yasushi Ikei of the Tokyo Metropolitan University Graduate School of System Design is leading a project that may bring the theme park motion simulator to your living room, for more practical reasons of course, in the form of a chair.

The “Five Senses Theater” is a state-of-the-art chair equipped with a vibration, motion, headphones, moving foot pedals, and a scent device, all in front of a 3D monitor. With that, the user can witness a pre-recorded stroll down through town with the smells and exhaustion of the real event.

Professor Ikei has big dreams for the prototype. He’s not just building an amusement park ride, he envisions a device that can assist the physically needy in simulating a breath of fresh air.

“It basically does serve some purpose as entertainment,” Ikei tells BTR. “Theme parks or travel agents could use it to invite consumers to a real world location, or it could be used for pure enjoyment. At the same time, I hope to improve the ‘quality of life’ for the physically disabled or the elderly. In the end, I hope it pleases people whether for their emotional needs or just for fun.”

The project doesn’t necessarily constitute ‘virtual reality’ yet, in the video game sense of the word. The user is not providing any input into the system, he is just there for the show. Ikei is more interested in convincing the user that he is making the movements, a whole line of research just as profound.

“The purpose of the current research is, or rather, what is unique about this technology is that users are passively stimulated only by the machine’s outputs. As for myself, I hope to project to the user that he is quasi-actively walking,” Ikei continues. “However, there are many places for research on this quasi-active nature to go. Triggering the machine’s output is a necessary component to the active nature, and currently we are working on improving a sensor for that. A BCI (Brain Computer Interface) I think is a prominent candidate in the future.”

Ikei envisions a future Five Sense Theater to be utilized as a community tool, where multiple people witnessing the same experience encourages like-minded thought.

“This technology functions as sharing personal experiences–that is, what people have learned from the world,” he says. “Users can share vicarious experiences, and I dream that it will function as a technology where one can experience many lives. I aim to make this a practical goal within five years time.”

“I feel that if many people are able to share the same positive experiences,” Ikea concludes. “They can mutually devise the same ideals.”

The negative implications of such technology, however, were explored in this 90’s sci-fi film: