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Monday, March 11, 2002

Digital scents may promote products on Net
Vibhor Sood

MANY of us spend just as much time in cyberspace touring the electronic landscapes of the Internet as we spend offline. But for all of the time we spend in front of our computer monitors, this virtual world lacks many of the real world's most precious attributes. One of the biggest drawbacks of the cyber world is its lack of realism. Most of us are born with five senses, allowing us to see, hear, touch, smell and taste - yet the Internet takes advantage of less than half of these.

When you log onto your computer, what senses are you using? Sight is perhaps the most obvious of the senses we use to collect information. The Internet is almost completely vision-based. While audio technology, like MP3 music files, has made a lot of noise recently, the Internet is made up mostly of words and pictures. You can also throw in touch as a third sense used in computer interaction but that is mostly in terms of interfacing by way of keyboard and mouse. Since the beginning of the Internet, software developers have chosen to ignore our senses of smell and taste.

Can you imagine a world with no smells? Think of some of the smells that you would never be able to enjoy, like homemade cookies, flowers or that scent that follows a summer rain. Smell adds so much to our experiences. Of course, without smell there is also no taste, since our sense of taste is almost completely dependent on our sense of smell. This world without smell exists on the Internet - but that is about to change. You will soon have your choice of essentially two technologies that will make your nose as involved in your Web experience as your eyes and ears.


Humans have the ability to recognise thousands of odours and some scientists believe that smell has the power to unlock memories. Smells will be transmitted to your desktop and what other possible applications this technology could present.

How can we smell stuff over the Net just with a computer and a Net connection? Frankly, you cannot smell stuff over the Net you will need hardware for the smell to be transported to your nose. This peripheral can be placed in the vicinity of the computer that will help you smell the smell. Let us take a look at how these peripheral could work.

There are essentially two ways that these peripherals could work.

The device could have indexed thousands of smells based on their chemical structure and their place on the scent spectrum. Each scent could then be coded and digitised into a small file. The digital file is embedded in Web content or e-mail. A user requests or triggers the file by clicking a mouse or opening e-mail.

A small amount of the aroma is emitted by the device in the direct vicinity of the user. The device would also need a small cartridge like the printer cartridge that could be placed in the device itself. The cartridge would be able to create thousands of everyday scents with the small cartridge that contains 128 primary odours. These primary odours are mixed together to generate other smells that closely replicate common natural and manmade odours. The scent cartridge, like a printer's toner cartridge, will have to be replaced periodically to maintain the scent accuracy.

There is however another way that we could smell the Net, a better way. Using this technique we cannot only download scents but can also print out the flavours that can be tasted .The smells can be printed onto thick fibre paper sheets and taste specific flavours by licking the paper coated with the smell. This would also require a hardware that will produce smells based on data programmed into Web pages.

This digital scent technology will be able to do more than allow you to attach e-smells to your e-mails. Imagine watching Ghayal on your DVD player with a smell device plugged into it - as Sunny Deol fires the gun, you can actually smell the gunpowder. Or, as the bombs explodes you can smell the fire itself. The scent of the ocean could be emitted during scenes of Titanic in which Leonardo di Capirio stands on the edge of the ship with Kate Winslet with him or you could smell Kate Winslet perfume as well. The whole idea here is to increase the realism and enhance the viewing of your favourite movies.

The same type of effect could be created for your favourite video games. While consoles like PlayStation 2 are designed to enhance the realism of video game graphics, a digital scent synthesizer could take games to a whole new level. Imagine smelling the bad guy who is approaching before you actually see him. Developers of racing games could embed the smell of burnt rubber or gasoline to make their games more realistic.

Before being attached to movies and games, Internet odours will likely permeate through Internet advertising. Just as advertisers used scratch and sniff technology a couple of decades ago, they will likely use the novelty of digital scents to peddle their products now. Coca Cola could embed their cola smell into banner ads, which could be triggered by a user scrolling over the ad. Suddenly, you're thirsty for a Coke. Sounds like pretty effective advertising.

Consumers may also benefit from this aromatic technology. With online spending on the rise, shoppers will now be able to sample some of the goods that they buy, including flowers, candy, coffee and other food products. Soon, you'll be able to stop and smell the roses without leaving your workstation.