It was One of the many inventions that never quite took off. In 1960, audiences watching the movie “Scent of Mystery” experienced the miracle of “smell-o-vision.” Mounted under the cinema seats, the system pumped 30 different scents—a whiff of wine from the salty ocean breeze—at key moments in the plot. The system had its own characteristics. Those in the balcony complained that the stench took a long time to reach them. Others found the scents too mild, or even irritatingly persistent. More novel than effective, Smell-O-Vision never really took root in Hollywood.
The cutting edge of entertainment these days is video games and virtual reality, not movies. Several groups are trying to bring fragrance to the virtual world. In a paper published this week nature communication, Jingye Yu at City University of Hong Kong and Yuhang Li at Beihang University describe two wearable “olfaction interfaces”. The first is shaped like a plaster, and is affixed to the skin under the user’s nose like a fake moustache. A second, more capable version is a flexible face mask.
Both rely on heating small tiles of paraffin wax that have been impregnated with various liquid perfumes. The shorter version of the system uses two such tiles; The elder has nine. The researchers claim that they can generate a scent like peppermint or green tea in just 1.44 seconds. The nine generators on the mask can combine to produce hundreds of possible odors.
Dr. Li and Yu are beaten up in the market ovr, a startup based in Vermont. Its headset uses a system of refillable cartridges, each of which can make thousands of cents. The firm’s latest product, “Ion3″, will be released later this year, and can be tied into existing game-creation tools with a minimum of fuss.
Getting the smells right can make a virtual world more compelling. Smells are famously suggestive. The part of the brain that processes them is directly connected to the parts involved with emotion and memory. But science is complicated. Unlike color or sound, where wavelengths and frequencies combine in predictable ways, smell is not so straightforward. Changing any one chemical bond can change the smell from sweet to rancid. whether smelly we are Stinking movies are yet to be seen, will do better than that. But maybe one day users will be able to close, swipe, and smell virtual roses.
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