Just imagine a world where you could snap a picture of your fancy meal, upload it to Instagram and your followers could actually get a waft of your pizza. David Edwards is making that happen.
Edwards, a Harvard professor and head of science/art innovation lab Le Laboratoire, just unveiled the first commercial version of his oPhone, the DUO, a cylindrical gadget that transmits scents (called oNotes) via an app called oSnap. Think of it as a mobile messaging platform for sending aromatic emoticons. The oPhone might look like a strange medical device, but Edwards is betting it could usher in the beginning of the aromatic communication age.
We wrote about the oPhone a few months back while it was still being designed and developed, but Edwards and his former student Rachel Fields has recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for pre-sales (you can buy your own oPhone for $149 (£90)).
The team began developing the oPhone a few years back as an experiment in new ways to experience smell. The current version features two cylindrical gadgets that work in tandem to deliver you bursts of scents for 10 seconds at a time. To do that, you first have to download the oSnap app. Then you take a picture of, say, creme brulee. Inside oSnap you can tag the image with any of the 32 scents, which will initially focus on food and coffee aromas. These scents can be combined into more than 300,000 different smells. In the case of your creme brulee, you might want to choose something like malty caramel and brown sugar. After you tag this photo, it gets sent to your friend who will be able to smell those notes via the oPhone. Each oPhone is equipped with oChips, little cartridges that contain all of the scent information that disperse odours when air is spun over them.
The catch is, no one will have an oPhone until next spring. Initially, to smell your notes you’ll have to travel to one of three hot spots, though Edwards plans to expand oPhone hot spots throughout the year. The first is at Le Laboratorie in Paris. The next will be at the Natural History Museum in New York City, where the device will be used to showcase the evolution of smell in animals and humans. Edwards plans to have another oPhone hot spot at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, location of Le Laboratoire once it opens this October.
“Inside oSnap you can tag the image with any of the 32 scents, which will initially focus on food and coffee aromas.”
An untapped sense
Edwards believes aroma is a natural evolution in the way we communicate with each other. In fact, he says, it’s been a glaring omission for a while now. Scent is strongly linked to memory and emotion. When we send texts or look at photos, we’re only getting part of the emotional payload. “An olfactory signal delivers a much stronger emotional and physiological impact than a visual or auditory signal,” he says. “I say to you croissant, and you say ‘Oh, that sounds good,’ but you smell it and you’re hungry.”
This initial period is more of a massive focus group than the definitive version of what the oPhone will be. Edwards images the next year as a time where he and his team will learn how people might actually want to use something like the oPhone. “You and I are on a phone right now and we have the phone next to our ear and we kind of know how to talk on the phone,” he says. “But people do not know, but will learn how, to listen to aroma messages and how to interact with the device. Right now we’re interested in learning about user behaviour.”
Admittedly, the early versions of the oPhone are fairly limited in scope if you’re not into coffee or taking photos of your food. But the partnership with the Natural History Museum shows that incorporating aroma into scenario can make for a much richer sensory experience in unexpected places. The oPhone’s promise is obvious to marketers, but more important than that is how cool this could be once the technology shrinks down enough to put something like the oPhone in our pocket or embed it directly into our phone. Once that happens, and the catalog of smells becomes robust enough to include the aromas of something more personal like the musty smell of a pickup truck or the scent of a warm summer afternoon, the applications start to become much more exciting.
This article originally appeared on Wired.com
Editors Note: Flop or Not you decide, would you buy one? comment below…