Texts, Snapchats, shared videos, and email: Digital communication truly is a delight for the eyes and ears. Now, it can also be a delight for the nose. One of the hottest new developments in digital communication is the scented text. If you get the urge to send your friend a whiff of bacon or your lover the scent of a lilac bouquet, you can – as long as you both have the right technology.
Sharing Aromas, Digitally
Image via Flickr nyuhuhuu
If you want to get in on the “smell messaging” action, you have several options. You could buy a plug-in device for your smart phone like the Scentee. When paired with its companion app, the Scentee will release aromas into the air at specified times. It attaches to the earphone jack of your phone and generally costs under $40. Refill cartridges go for about $5.
A Smell Worth 1,000 Pictures
A handheld device called the oPhone is the brainchild of the Parisian company Le Laboratoire. This texting/scenting gadget is slated for limited release this summer. Users will be able to select from a menu of mail-ready aromas. Dr. David Edwards, Harvard professor and Le Laboratoire founder told the press that “an aroma tells a thousand pictures.” The biomedical engineer is hoping that aromatic texting will revolutionize digital communication by allowing people to “say things we couldn’t before.”
Experts predict that smell messaging will quickly become more than just a fun party trick. Practical applications of the technology could positively affect everything from the culinary arts to cancer prevention. Consider the following:
- An Asian company called Mixed Reality Lab has partnered with the Mugaritz restaurant of Spain to create online tutorials for aspiring chefs. The tutorial’s aromas help students understand what kinds of smells and tastes they should strive to create in their cooking.
- A digital taste simulator developed by Singapore researcher Nimesha Ranasinghe actually produces the sensation of taste by electrically stimulating the tongue. Ranasinghe and her partners hope their invention will augment users’ experience of TV and video games in the future.
- Marketers of aromatic products like perfume and coffee will be able to email potential customers a sample smell.
- Chemist George Preti of the Monell Chemical Senses Center is currently researching and developing his “electric nose” theory to help detect and prevent cancer. While it’s true that imaging is a powerful cancer screening tool, Preti theorizes that smell biomarkers might give an even clearer picture of who is at risk for the dreaded disease. The way our cells metabolize themselves can be healthy or unhealthy; Preti theorizes that unhealthy cell metabolization has a subtle odor that could be identified by his electric nose.
Digital olfactory stimulation is more than just a fluff invention; it holds the promise of enriched communication, enhanced entertainment, and improved medical testing and disease prevention. Right now, the Scentee is the only device available to the mainstream population. In the future, as the oPhone develops its library of scents and expands availability, it’s likely we’ll be seeing and smelling a lot more of this savory technology.