You may recall Smell-O-Vision from jokes on shows like Futurama and Family Matters. The idea is that you can watch movies and television shows, and smell the things that are onscreen. Strangely enough, Smell-O-Vision was a real — albeit experimental — system that made its only appearance in the 1960 film Scent of Mystery. Now, researchers are trying to bring the same concept to the internet with an Electric Smell Machine.
The lead researcher on the project is Kasun Karunanayaka, who is a senior research fellow at Malaysia’s Imagineering Institute. When the project started, Karunanayaka was working with Adrian Cheok, whose student created the electric flavor-creating chopsticks that we covered a couple of months ago. Those work by using electrical stimulation on your tongue to create a salty taste. The new Electric Smell Machine works in a similar way, except that it stimulates your olfactory senses.
The main drawback here is that it’s not enough to stimulate an area near your nose, and the Electric Smell Machine has to actually provide electrical impulses deep inside your nose. An operator shoves a tube deep inside the user’s nose, and the tube is equipped with a small camera so the operator can direct it towards the user’s olfactory cells. Electrodes on the tip of the tube stimulate those cells with small amounts of electricity, causing the user to perceive smells. Right now, the researchers aren’t able to control the exact smells the electrodes stimulate, but further development may make that possible.