Smell-O-Vision is back!

More than fifty years since the one and only film to use Smell-O-Vision was screened, engineers have developed a small box that can fit on the back of a television and pump out odors.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Korea say their device can generate thousands of odors at will.

“For example, if people are eating pizza, the viewer smells pizza coming from a TV or cell phone. And if a beautiful lady walks by, they smell perfume,” says professor Sungho Jin of UC San Diego.

“Instantaneously generated fragrances or odors would match the scene shown on a TV or cell phone, and that’s the idea.”

The scent comes from an aqueous solution such as ammonia, which forms an odorous gas when heated through a thin metal wire by an electrical current. The solution is kept in a compartment, and, as the heat and odor pressure build, a tiny hole is opened to release the odor.

Jin’s team used an X-Y matrix system in order to minimize the amount of circuitry required. Without this, thousands of individual controllers would be needed to accommodate the range of odors required for a commercial system. With it, though, 200 controllers (100 on the X-axis multiplied by 100 on the Y-axis) selectively activate each of the 10,000 odors.

The team tested the system with two commercially available perfumes, “Live by Jennifer Lopez”, and “Passion by Elizabeth Taylor”. In both cases, a human tester was able to smell and distinguish the scents within 30 centimeters of the test chamber.

Jin says his next step is to demonstrate a prototype that’s reliable enough to release odors on cue and scalable to the size needed for consumer electronics like TVs and cellphones. It would be refilled with something rather like a printer ink cartridge. For applications like perfume advertisements, says Jin, it would probably need to be upgradable.

Jin says he has no idea whether TV audiences and advertisers will actually want such a system. For now, he says, the question was simply whether it’s possible.