Self-Contained Device Lets Users Smell in Stereo

Researchers have developed a nose-worn device that can determine the direction of smells.

The olfactory device provides directional information on the location of odors via external sensors that translate data as trigeminal sensations using electrical stimulation of the wearer’s nasal septum. (📷: Jas Brooks/University of Chicago)

Engineers from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Chicago have developed an olfactory electronic device that lets the wearer smell in stereo, making it easier to identify odors and their locations. The small nose-worn device could be used to assist those with anosmia or no sense of smell. It could also be beneficial in trying to pinpoint gas leaks before they become dangerous.

The device is designed to provide information on odors and their locations using external sensors that collect and translate data as trigeminal sensations (chemosensory information) via electrical stimulation of the wearer’s nasal septum. It eliminates the need for implanting electrodes in the olfactory lobe, which transmits odor information to the part of the brain responsible for decoding certain smells.

The researchers developed their self-contained intranasal stimulator using a pair of interconnected PCBs small enough to fit inside each nostril (10 x 23 x 5mm), which are outfitted with a pair of magnets that attract each other and hold the device in place. The PCBs also feature Nordic’s nRF52811 Bluetooth SoC and a pair of electrodes that tap into the nasal septum.

To garner smells and their locations, the engineers utilize a DRV8847, a dual H-bridge capable of outputting up to 18Vpp. The voltage supply for the stimulation is generated from an MT3608 boost-converter with adjustable voltage output set at 18 V. The parameters of the generated waveform (such as pulse-width or current polarity) are generated by the microcontroller by controlling the h-bridge’s enable and direction. To make the device provide a more realistic trigeminal sensation, the engineers coupled the stimulation during the wearer’s “breath-in” cycle, which uses an IR photo interpreter to track breathing patterns.

The team states that while the unit can be utilized for those applications mentioned above, it could even be used for new types of haptic interfaces or used as a navigation device, taking cues from certain smells on the way home.

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