In the spirit of such aromatic experiments as Smell-O-Vision and scratch and sniff comes a new technology that seeks to bring aroma to mobile communications.
The creators of the oPhone say their device will allow people to send and receive scented messages, just as they do texts or photographs today. Messages that tickle the nose, the inventors contend, are the next step in electronic communications.
“It will take time before people understand how to integrate this into mobile messaging,” said inventor and Harvard professor David Edwards, Vapor Communications’ co-founder and chief executive. “But you can be sure that one day, aroma will lend itself to mobile communications as easily as text communications do.”
Edwards and a former student, Rachel Field, are attempting to raise $150,000 to start production of the oPhone Duo through an Indiegogo campaign.
Technologies that seek to reproduce smell have been anything but a bed of roses.
Hollywood fleetingly experimented with Smell-O-Vision in the 1960s, with the appropriately titled “Scent of Mystery,” then reprised the idea in the early 1980s with Odorama, with John Waters’ black comedy “Polyester,” which employed scratch-and-sniff cards to recreate the smell of flatulence and model airplane glue. More recently, researchers at Tokyo University experimented with bringing the fifth sense to TVs.
At the height of dot-com bubble euphoria, DigiScent’s creators heralded the power of “scenography” to transform Web-based entertainment.
Google satirized technology’s failed attempts to follow the nose with an April Fool’s Day gag in which it jokingly announced the ability to search for smells using Google Nose, a fictional product that promised “to offer the sharpest olfactory experience available.”
Edwards thinks the oPhone is different.
Unlike the failed theatrical experiences, which drenched the audience in odor, Edwards said the oPhone delivers a small dose of aroma — just the waft of a scent needed to identify a particular smell.
The $199 device produces aromas — a freshly brewed cup of coffee, say, or spicy enchiladas — using a set of eight circular cartridges, or oChips, infused with primitive aromas (smoky, oniony, fishy, etc.) that can combine to produce more than 300,000 smells.
A companion iPhone app, the oSnap, allows anyone to send electronic aroma messages. The user takes a picture of an object, such as a chocolate chip cookie, tags the image with scent attributes — chocolaty, coco bean, walnut, brown sugar — then sends the message as an oNote to friends.
The recipient receives the message, sees the image of the cookie and uses the oPhone to vicariously experience the fresh-baked smell.
Edwards says the technology has applications among coffee lovers, who are interested in sharing the primary, secondary and tertiary notes in a particular cup of joe. Ditto for wine lovers or foodies seeking a more sensory-rich way to capture and share a particular culinary experience.
“Since we stared this campaign, there’s been enormous interest on the B2B side,” said Edwards, noting particular attention from makers of “food and beverages, coffee, fragrances and other kinds of verticals where the value of aroma is understood.”
So far, though, the oPhone has failed to generate the whiff of excitement in the crowd-funding community. It has raised just $46,527 — less than a third of its goal. The fundraising campaign ends on July 31.