Edge of Innovation

Smell on your Smartphone.

André Vatter Writer

If you disregard the factory smell of freshly unpacked hardware, the world of technology is rather odorless. At the moment, the output of a computing machine is detected by sight or by hearing—however the next revolution is already visible on the horizon: by smell!

Aroma samples on a smartphone

The process is similar to a conventional Inkjet printer

David Edwards is a Professor at Harvard University and, together with his students, has developed a new form of computer communications that affect the nose of the user. The associated device is called the Ophone, and if Edwards is right, then in the near future his technology will enable smells to be shared via smartphone for the first time ever. Before we know it, instead of a message that says “Coffee at my place?”, the recipient will receive a delicate little fragrant cloud of cappuccino, restaurants will renounce menus in favor of mobile aroma bars and perfume shops will send you samples before you buy. Sounds like science fiction? Well, then welcome to the future, because the Ophone enters the US market this year.

But how does such a thing work? Each Ophone contains four basic smell capsules than can compose the scent on request, on an ad hoc basis. The process is similar to a conventional inkjet printer that mixes the three basic colors to create the end color. The sender creates a fragrance and the recipe for the fragrance is forwarded to the recipient’s smartphone via the Internet. From there, the recipe is forwarded to the Ophone via Bluetooth. The Ophone then immediately begins to compile the requested smell. Edwards’ company currently offers suitable basic smells, including “green apple”, “mint chocolate” and “dark chocolate”. It is not difficult to imagine that there will be a lot more in the future.

So many possible scenarios

App stores for smell recipes

According to Edwards, the Ophone is only the start of a huge smell campaign. Soon, cell phones will be capable of directly interpreting smell messages and there will be app stores for smell recipes and other suitable applications. But why stop here? Imagine if spectators to movies or games were not only played the sounds and images, but also offered the relevant smells? Why not equip computer monitors with vaporizers so that websites could be viewed with the accompanying scent? Edwards and his students want to turn these visions into reality. However, until this is actually possible, we will have to be patient for a little while longer and settle for a bacon smell every morning. This does, in fact, already exist on smartphones.

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