Scents and sensibility: are you ready for the world-wide-whiff?

You COULD do most things with your a computer: chat, shop, play games – even indulge in some sweaty virtual reality. But no matter how clever it was, it wouldn’t let you smell the rotting flesh in Quake III’s House of Pain or taste those Belgian chocolates you’ve just ordered – until now. Thanks to […]

You COULD do most things with your a computer: chat, shop, play games – even indulge in some sweaty virtual reality. But no matter how clever it was, it wouldn’t let you smell the rotting flesh in Quake III’s House of Pain or taste those Belgian chocolates you’ve just ordered – until now.

Thanks to a combination of ink-jet printer technology and studies into how we detect smells, the first digital scents and tastes have arrived. Digital scent technology is being pioneered in the US where a number of companies are racing to launch click and smell machines.

They all use software to control a printer-like device to create a range of different smells and tastes from a number of basic fragrances and chemicals. As soon as you have the device plugged in to your PC, you are ready to `surf and scent’.

The possibilities are endless: Click on a picture of the perfume you fancy and a second or two later you smell Givenchy. What’s that new wine like? Click and taste. Get a whiff of burning rubber every time you hit the chicane in your favourite Formula 1 race game.

TriSenx, based in Georgia, has patented a machine to render smell and taste over the internet. It is developing a communion-like wafer made of edible cardboard to enable you to taste a particular flavour.

The Pinoke is the brainchild of Texas company AromaJet. It has been designed for video games to dispense smells in response to a player’s actions. It uses microjet technology to select and squirt a mixture of fragrances at the player. AromaJet claims its technology can digitally mix and release smells in under 10 milliseconds to an accuracy of 200 picolitres.

The founders of California based DigiScents know that when odour molecules drift into the nose they bind with a particular protein, and that there are about 1,000 odour matching proteins in the human nose, each with a slightly different shape. Using bacteria to mimic these proteins they created a smell index and wrote software to generate billions of different smells from just 100-200 `scent primaries’.

The result is the iSmell machine. It has a replaceable cartridge system containing 128 scent primaries. DigiScents intends to license out the iSmell to manufacturers, charging a fee for the smell index which tells you the correct proportion of iSmell scent primaries needed to create a particular odour. The company has already commissioned a consultant to create a perfume for Lara Croft!

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