Did you ever imagine that there would come a day when you could transmit not only sound and images but also smells while chatting via digital apps? It’s hard to imagine something like this and it’s even harder to execute, but this is definitely not something you would see only in a sci-fi movie. That future is already here!
Scientists from Malaysia have started researching ways to create an ‘electric smell’ that could be transmitted from one person to another via apps and devices. It’s all part of the augmented reality technologies that have been developing in the last decade. If we can send texts, emails, voice records, then why not smells as well? That’s a question that is quite hard to answer, but researchers believe it will soon become the new reality of chatting.
Adrian Cheok, one of the scientists behind this unusual research, is sure this can be done if they crack the technology behind it. It’s an important part of virtual reality experience that is bound to happen eventually. So how would one create such an immersive special effect like the smell? It’s all about the nerve cells in our nose and upper airway that catch the molecules responsible for smell in the air. These cells send special impulses to the brain, thus notifying it about this or that smell.
During the research in the city of Nusajaya, a number of participants were experiencing various smells via small electrodes that were connected to their nostrils. Those electrodes were sending very weak electrical currents to evoke a sense of certain smell. Indeed, the participants could feel several smells like wood, mint, and fruit, but it was different for each person, so the research wasn’t by any means conclusive.
Of course, sticking wires up people’s noses to create an immersive experience is not something that could become a part of the virtual reality technologies. Still, this research offers a glimpse into how the whole process of digitally evoking smells can be executed in real-time.
Cheok believes that it might take up to 20 years to fully develop the devices that would make sending smells to each other as easy as sending text and voice messages. Still, he is sure that devices with pre-programmed smells would appear much earlier – they could be extensively used within the entertainment industry, especially by movie theatres to create an even more immersive experience for the audience. Creating different smells using electrical stimulation could also help people who experience problems with their sense of smell.