Scented Electronics

Dr. S. S. Verma, Department of Physics, S.L.I.E.T., Longowal, Distt.-Sangrur (Punjab)-148106

2018-01-20 05:18:45



Electronic devices in their various forms (viz., PCs, laptops, tablets, smart phones, blackberry devices, USB memory sticks etc.) are everywhere providing numerous possibilities for convenience in our day to day work.  Their uses have touched almost every sphere of our life and people are spending a large time in association with these electronic devices. People also want to go online by using their preferred devices to get there, and they want to share information with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. And, of course, it all needs to happen securely, reliably, and seamlessly. Electronic devices are coming with many attractions related to their qualities like appearance, speed, sound, touch, size and weight etc. Thus, the development of electronic devices so far is said to be influenced to realize the three human senses like: touch, sight and sound (can transmit -video associated with eyes, sounds associated with ears and our voice, some digital data which encoded into device and create shapes in 3D-associated with touch) and further working to influence the next sense of smell. Smell is one of our primary senses and plays a significant role in real life. Similar to importance of four human senses (touch, sound, sight and taste), we all know that the sense of smell also plays in a great role in our day-to-day decisions, emotions, and memories. To make virtual reality, more realistic, adding the corresponding smell, can play a major role. Scented electronic devices offer a welcome alternative to traditional scent solutions such as air fresheners, incense and scented candles, which can sometimes be overwhelming and only provide one single fragrance. Consumers will be able to switch on and even program scents as easily as they switch on lights, turning their cars and other small areas into personal sanctuaries. They can choose from a selection of mood medleys from the oNotes app and the selected sequence of smells is played. Electronic smell can be customized and even shared via social media. It can be combined with various other types of entertainment such as music and video. Thus, digital scent technology will have a significant impact on entertainment, health, automobile and a host of other industries.

Scent tech

The digital age has increased the volume of communication but not has improved the quality. Because communication happens increasingly digitally, a lot of our sensory input gets lost, such as scent; a powerful sense that can trigger emotions or memories. Reversing that trend is the goal of a new generation of sensory engineers who are going beyond sight and sound to produce devices that use our untapped faculties. Perhaps the most exciting breakthroughs right now are arriving in the form of smell-centered communication. Biologically we respond powerfully to aroma, so if we become familiar with the design of aromatic communication we might be able to say things we couldn't before. Scent tech is on the horizon, but it'll be a while before it makes its way to our computer. However, from USB drives to digital alarm clocks to mobile phones, there are plenty of scented electronic devices available right now that will please the user with a desired scent. The use of scent technology could have a huge impact on our computing experience-and not just in ads. It could be a great way to personalize our electronics, too. For example, imagine programming the phone to emit a different scent for specific callers.  Researchers have developed smartphone apps and plugins that emit various smells. They have already developed ways to send the scent of flowers via a text message for which the recipient has to have a special device connected to their smartphone. These devices will introduce a revolutionary new way to integrate one of the most important human senses into our digital world. Each mood playlist or medley will consist of various scents that each will last a couple of minutes. The scents can design our personal air and transform a space into moods like empowerment, personal wellness and relaxation.

Smell-tech: a history

If scent can claim an Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of telephone) of its own, the honor would have to go to Samuel "Roxy" Rothafel, a film industry pioneer who made his name opening Radio City Music Hall and the eponymous Roxy Theater in Times Square (USA) in which he was able to generate smells in the theater. Over the next couple of decades, theater owners around the country mimicked Rothafel, typically dispersing odors through ventilation systems. Credit for the first technological advancement in the field belongs to the unnamed inventor whose aroma dispersal system found a brief home at Times Square's Rialto Theater in 1933. It was supposed to waft odors into the auditorium and suck them back out, clearing the air for the next scent. New methods emerged, including shooting aromas through air conditioner ducts with compressed air. But each failed for the same reason: getting the aromas in was easy, taking them out was hard. There on, companies have long tried injecting scents into the modern entertainment and messaging world. Movie theaters worked for decades on ways to make aroma part of the viewing experience. A half century ago, Smell-O-Vision and AromaRama released scents in time with the film through the theater seats or air vents. But the smells tended to linger and become muddled with other smells. Vapor Communications (USA) has overcome that problem with a system that includes small plastic pellets with scents that are activated when air flows over them. The scent is not dispersed widely; users have to lean in close, as if sniffing a flower, to smell anything at all. The idea is to keep the scent message as personal as possible while avoiding complaints from others in the room that object to the smell or have perfume allergies.

Smelly start-ups

Various scent technologies have been introduced several times to the consumer electronics market with promises of deeper immersion in virtual experiences, but none of the gadgets have shown much success. Recent research points to the eventual development of new devices that could make a deeper impact on the mainstream market with potential for improving the health of end users and optimizing electronic marketing. We're reaching a limit with what we can do with text data, and there is the potential to connect more deeply and personally through smell. Research has consistently shown that scent increases sales, and yet smell remains the most overlooked and underutilized sense. Our visual culture treats odor as a taboo, meant to be scrubbed away or covered up rather than enjoyed for its emotional power. That's probably got something to do with our inability to control it. We can turn off sights and sounds, but controlling odors isn't as easy. Aromas seep into our noses whether we like them or not, and quickly, into our brains. They conjure visceral memories, tapping our subconscious in unpredictable ways. Experts say that smartphones will be sending and receiving scented messages by the end of next few years. Marketers are especially eager to deploy the new technology and some start-ups are:

  • SensorWake alarm clock invented by a French teenager which wakes up and gives the smell of coffee.  Alarm clock wafts aromas of espresso and the seaside to rouse you gently in less than two minutes. Cube-shaped clock wafts scents to rouse sleepers within two minutes. Smells such as coffee can be chosen and cartridges inserted into the clock.
  • The VAQSO VR (Japan) scent device is an unusual venture by a Japanese start-up to make virtual reality experience more immersive through smell. This device can be easily connected to HMDs (Head-Mounted Display) with the help of an adapter. The device will emit fragrance based on the VR (Virtual Reality) content for a more reality-based experience of the viewers. Small and shape, this device has three compartments for three different scents. It is provided with a fan to modulate the intensity of the smell, based on virtual viewing. VAQSO is not the only company that is looking for incorporating smell into virtual reality; many other companies are working on the same. So we are hopeful to get a more immersive and real virtual reality experience shortly with this smell feature.
  • With the rise of mobile computing came the Scentee, an iPhone dongle that plugs into the headphone jack and can be programmed to release a burst of rose, lavender, or buttered-potato scent to accompany text messages and alarms. Singapore's Mixed Reality Lab has been prolific in this space, engineering Japanese device Scentee that allows users to send a single fragrance between them. The company released an app worldwide and has lucrative partnerships such as with Mugaritz restaurant in Spain, that allows for online cooking tutorials with leading chefs to give students a whiff of the smell they are aiming for. Right now it's the equivalent of music before mp3s, when you had to record a song on a tape and physically give it to someone. We can send a basic scent through a device like Scentee, but we need the framework to make millions of them available through digitization.
  • Researchers are also testing a device that would connect us directly to the Internet, inspired by the successful connection of optical fibres to neurons of mice. Lab experiments involve subjects wearing a mouthguard-like device containing magnetic coils, from which electric signals are directed into the olfactory bowl to simulate the effect of smell. The wearer's brains are scanned before and after to pinpoint the effect, and the results have encouraged enough to believe a prototype could be available soon.
  • Scientists at Monell Chemical Senses Center (USA) are also pursuing the goal of digitizing olfaction, with healthcare applications high on the agenda. One of their research areas is seeking smell biomarkers in cancer patients, using an 'e-nose' to hunt chemicals in the blood to deliver early diagnosis.
  • Nevertheless, dozens of entrepreneurs went on to launch their own iterations. An incomplete list includes the AromaJet, which used inkjet technology to transmit a smell between Sydney, Australia, and Plano, Texas. The Multi Aroma Shooter, another USB-powered device, which Japanese researchers programmed to emit fruit smells alongside a video of a woman eating fruit.
  • The Osmooze (France), which synchronized with users’ e-mail programs to release contact-specific scent notifications.
  • The Cyrano’s (USA) aromas come from a carrousel of small, resinous chips, which periodically rotate into place above the fan. That single-note, unidirectional, dry-air experience results in something less visceral than true smell—the idea of coconut, rather than the oily, hairy fruit itself. The Cyrano-is Bluetooth-enabled, fits in a cup holder, and emits up to twelve scents, in an order that can be controlled using a smartphone app. The Cyrano will live mostly in cars, allowing drivers to create olfactory playlists for their commutes. Several such smell tracks come preloaded: clicking on “Thai Beach Vacation,” for example, will play the scents of coconut, suntan lotion, and sea breeze in an infinite loop.
  • oPhone (China Mobile and based on the Android operating system developed by Google), designed to bring scent messaging to the masses, to a product little more than a next-generation air freshener.
  • Japanese researchers showed that their scent system, which uses gels can cause a TV to emit a smell from a particular place on the screen. So, KFC’s chicken smell could be emitted specifically from the fried chicken on the TV screen even as it moves, but the gels only allow one scent per TV unless someone switches out the gels. However, the system is perfect for enhancing aroma-emitting digital signage which has been available before.


Just at the beginning of scented electronic devices, there are approximately 100 scents available at the moment, ranging from lavender to gunpowder and any scent imaginable in between. This technology has potential applications in advertising, gaming, diet programs, cooking recipes and personal communication. The most commonly known effect of scent is probably for stimulating memory, and studies have indicated that aromatherapy can significantly aid the treatment of dementia patients. Besides the health benefits, incorporating scent into digital interactions-whether on TV, the internet, or phones-would help consumers remember those interactions thereby enhancing marketing and brand loyalty. Complimenting the slowly emerging virtual reality technology, digital scent technology could enhance advertisements and manipulate consumer emotions toward (or away from) a brand. Therefore, along with business, scent technology could benefit its users in a practical and potentially profound way by improving the health and emotional well being of its users.  Smells also affect our moods and thus the use of scented electronic devices will also help users to maintain a more stable and elevated mood.


The sense of smell is kind of a close and personal thing. Over the years, technologists have struggled with problems that include inauthentic odors, an unnatural user experience and a general perception that this is a topic more fit for pranks than serious R&D. The most basic smell has hundreds of molecules and we need analytical chemistry to see what's there. Perhaps only 5% would have an impact on smell, so it's difficult to pick them out. It's more trial and error than quantitative science. There are considerable technical difficulties inherent in delivering smell. Unlike light and sound, it is transmitted as molecules, not waves-as mass rather than energy. Each of those molecules, are of different weights, and the small, battery-powered fan had to be capable of diffusing heavy cedar and light citrus with equal intensity and rapidity. At the same time, the smells had to be lasting and powerful enough for a user to register and decode them. This may result in a localized scent cloud, in which fragments of the message would get lost. The biggest difficulty though may be convincing consumers that digital fragrance is actually a desirable innovation. Full digital immersion requires the sense of smell. Otherwise, virtual interactions, no matter how realistic, will always be sterile and unconvincing.

The future of smell-tech

We are so used to the concept of recording and broadcasting sound and vision, but the idea of digitally transmitting smells seems absurd and frankly, impossible to most of us. However, interesting developments, and research into the capturing, analyzing and reproduction of smell is ongoing. This exciting technology has many potential applications in various fields. Digital scent research and devices have popped up every year since the late nineties that claim they will bring scents to consumer electronics to increase digital immersion. However, all of these gadgets have failed to reach a mainstream audience, and the potential for marketers to communicate scent to consumers in less public, more personal locations remains elusive. However, consumers to care about smelling with an electronic device, they will need something more user friendly to attract their continued interest. Once scents and their associated memories can be revisited so easily, people might become more sensitive to their own sense of smell and therefore more interested in exploring digital scents. Users might also feel the need to share certain scents that affect them just like people currently share certain songs, photos, or videos for the same reason. Users would finally have a personal reason to populate their social media and other communications with smelly content. If such a device were developed beyond the prototype, it would likely only appeal to a niche market, but if marketed effectively, it could create a user base that could synergize with smelly TVs, computers, and phones to broaden the appeal of full sensory immersion and marketing.