While the Google Nose was just a mere April Fool’s joke, the technology of replicable scents intrigued me; so I looked more into the subject. Turns out, it’s not really a joke but rather a serious field that could reap serious benefits. There’s even an entire society and conference dedicated to the idea, called the Digital Olfaction Society which had its first world congress conference in the past week.
A society headed by Dr. Marvin Edeas, the Digital Olfaction Society is dedicated to offering numerous solutions that could be derived from a commercial ‘smell-o-vision’ technology. Dr. Edeas is especially interested in the recent breakthrough that aroma can activate intestinal receptors, making people feel more full than they are, something exceptionally relevant to the obesity epidemic in this country. Furthermore, breakthroughs have been made showing how dogs can smell cancer and diabetes, and movie theatres would benefit from a increased attendance rate. Thus, Dr. Edeas is also excited by what improvements olfactory technology can have on the medical, gaming, security and justice, and entertainment businesses.
But creating customizable scents on demand is more difficult than it appears. Due to the fact that there are no “primary and secondary odors” like with colors, in a sense (no pun intended), there are no basic building blocks that can be combined to form all smells imaginable. One synthetic scent of coffee can be produced, but at the current time, it is impossible to replicate a specific roast.
Nonetheless, certain technologies already exist in the scent-changing world. Nakatomo has created a Virtual Ice Cream Shop that recreates the scents of different ice cream flavors by mixing together approximately 30 chemical components. There is also something called the Meta Cookie, coined a “pseudo-gustatory display,” which “attempts to modify the perception of flavor by changing the food item’s appearance and masking its true smell with another, simulated scent.” Now who wouldn’t want to eat their green beans if it smelled and tasted just like a Twix candy bar? However, this technology still isn’t completely up to par for normal use because it relies on a headgear worn by the user to recognize a symbol branded on a plain cookie. Thus, the product not only has to be specifically made for the headgear, but once the symbol is tampered with or all together gone, the headgear no longer recognizes the item, and therefore stops producing the desired smell.
Additionally, there is a portable device that can be plugged into an iPhone in order for one user to send the scent of a bouquet of roses to another, as well as a robot that can detect methane gas leaks, all very exciting stuff. It’s predicted that smell detection is highly likely to become huge in the near future due to its usefulness in many fields for safety precautions; however, reproducing custom scents is another story. Not just technology, but science as well, needs to be far more advanced in order to identify individual components of smells, and then build them together to replicate complicated odors. An extremely intriguing topic, olfactory technology could improve life in some drastic ways. At the very least, this field of technology stands to gain a lot of exposure on the near future especially now that the touch and sight senses have been conquered.