One of the last remaining senses that needs to be explored in virtual worlds is that of smell. Just imagine browsing a Web site about perfume, and voila the odor comes wafting out of your brand-new digital smell generator. Far fetched, sure. Ripe for hilarious opportunities, definitely. Enter DigiScents.
Having received the digital equivalent of an Academy Award with a cover story on Wired magazine DigiScents is off to an auspicious if not malodorous start. You just have to check out their site! I'm am trying not to bust out laughing as I browse it. Under their "Products and Opportunities" section they talk about their "Personal Scent Synthesizer" called "iSmell" which will be licensed during the spring 2000 time frame from their "Snortal". Ya gotta love the chutzpah of these folks!
In the Wired article we told of a demo by Marc Canter (remember him...he founded Macromedia and created the first version of Director called Video Works at the time):
Canter initiates a sequence of movie clips, and in a window on the screen we're transported to Oz. Dorothy, the Lion, and the Scarecrow are venturing into the forest, and its trees are not merely visible but sniffable. "Ahhhh!" Canter exclaims. "Smell that cedar!" And - it's true! A cedar fragrance emerges from the little black box beside the computer.Canter's new company Broadband Mechanics is working on smelly authoring tools. The scents will be embedded in "ScentTracks which will be part of DVD's, CD audio or MP3 files coming to you (of course) via the "ScentStream" platform. Can you believe these folks manage to demo this stuff with a straight face ;-)
All kidding aside the move to bring smell into the digital age does have some serious applications. The ability for physicians to treat wounded or injured soldiers can be aided by a sense of smell. Osmetech in an August 15, 1999 article reports about the use of an "Electric Nose" to help detect infections. In fact Osmetech makes a couple of products, mostly for industrial use that detect smell.
Believe it or not a few years ago about DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), those kind folks who originally brought you the Internet, was funding some sort of Artificial Nose project. You can see some of this work at the Olfactory Classification page.
Another highly anticipated (yet not quite in existence) smell enabled device is the "Truffle Sniffer". In the Web page titled "Electronic Apparatus for Truffle Searching" Thierry Talou makes the business case for the development of such an apparatus.
Another article with some pointers to more smelly links is from Mike Powers the Internet Radio Guide. Just remember, the next time some one tells you a Web site seems to smell a little fishy they may be exactly right!
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