FeelReal VR Scent Mask Banned Temporarily by FDA, Considered Vaping Product
FeelReal has been working on its VR scent mask for years but it now appears to have hit a snag following the imposition of a ban on the product by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
MIXED.DE reports that the FDA has blocked the approval of the product as it falls under the ban on the vaporization of aromatic fluids that are for consumer inhalation even though it is not a vaping product and does not contain any nicotine. This ban applies to all products with similar function and unfortunately, the FeelReal VR Smell Mask happens to fall under this category. FeelReal has expressed confidence that it could work around this but it does make road a lot murkier in the startup’s efforts to roll out its innovative scent masks.
Kickstarter backers may never see their money again
Even worse, the money invested in the FeelReal VR mask by the thousands of backers will likely be lost. In May 2015, FeelReal had a failed in a Kickstarter fundraising campaign but the company succeeded in raising money in 2019. In total, FeelReal raised $200,000 in Kickstarter and Indiegogo for the development of the scent and feel mask. Delivery of the masks was planned for August 2019 but had been delayed due to a revision in the accessories. The startup had the problem of attaching the scent mask to the virtual reality headset, something it still hasn’t quite figured out to date.
The VR scent mask project has now been put on hold. In a short update on its Kickstarter fundraising project page, the company explained that the FDA had refused to grant it marketing authorization for the FeelReal mask because the kit categorized as a vaping product. FDA defines a vaping product as one in which evaporated liquids are released and inhaled. This has led to several other harmless products being withdrawn from the US market due to health concerns. The affected manufacturers have been directed to submit an approval application.
The FeelReal team now wants to modify the accessories used in its scent mask in order to obtain an FDA approval. The company has stated that if it fails to get the FDA approval after further tests, it will have to close the project.
Several headsets are compatible with the VR scent mask including Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, HTC Vive and PSVR. The newest line of headsets aren’t compatible with the product something the company still has to work on should it get the approval for the production of the $209 peripheral. The newest scents support a handful of games including Arizona Sunshine, Beat Saber and Skyrim VR. The list of supported games is still being updated and developers are still able to integrate the scents via the Unity and Unreal SDKs.
Why the FeelReal Tech is a Problem
FeelReal’s problems with FDA is down to the technology they use. Basically, the scent mask acts as multiple little vaping machines. While the scents do not contain nicotine, they vaporize the various scents for human consumption and therein lies the problem.
When the product was first developed back in 2016, vaping wasn’t a huge problem and the phenomenon was yet to catch up like wildfire. However, it has since become a national scare and regulators are taking a tough line on vaping at the federal level.
It was recently announced that the White House is planning a ban on all flavored vapes that are not menthol and tobacco flavors. As a result, FeelReal will have to rework on its tech in order to comply with the new tough line on vaping. Should the startup pass FDA tests, it will get the green light to proceed with mass production and sales.
In a press statement, FeelReal stated that if it fails to get the approval after the series of tests, then it will have to close the project. The alternative is to rethink how to remake the project without vaporizing the scents but that is a very long shot.
FeelReal’s technical implementation of its scent mask which relied on exchangeable odor capsules was extremely complex and the actual market for the product, should it proceed to mass production, is also going to be relatively tiny.
The company hasn’t provided any detail on whether it will issue any refunds if the project goes under. In a statement to backers, a FeelReal spokesperson said the company could not issue refunds “right now”.
The startup notes that since this was a crowdfunding campaign, all the financial resources that had been raised had been funneled into production so FeelReal is now focused on bringing the mask to users “as soon as possible”. This perhaps implies that should the product fail to materialize, there won’t be any refunds.
Should it flop, it could raise questions on whether Kickstarter is a safe investment option. FeelReal is just the latest Kickstarter project to test the patience of backers. There was the 3D controller Stem launched way back in 2013 which was not completed and not delivered and backers only got their money back after 5 years. There is also the Virtuix Omni running machine that never reached its international clients and Pimax where backers had to wait for much longer to receive their virtual reality headsets than had been originally planned.