No joke: Japanese display lets you smell what’s on the screen


Apparently Google was on to something with the more well-received of their April Fools' jokes yesterday. The Google Nose 'scentsation' promised to deliver smells via your computer, just by searching for something and clicking the 'Smell' button. Not everyone sees the idea as a joke, though.

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Haruka Matsukura, a researcher at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, along with colleagues Tatsuhiro Yoneda and Hiroshi Ishida, presented their new 'olfactory display' at the 2013 IEEE Virtual Reality conference in Orlando, demonstrating how the system can deliver smells to complement whatever is viewed on the monitor.

According to the description of their research display at the show:

The smelling screen is a new olfactory display that can generate a localized odor distribution on a two-dimensional display screen. The generated odor distribution is as if an odor source had been placed on the screen, and leads the user to perceive the odor as emanating from a specific region of the screen. The position of this virtual odor source can be shifted to an arbitrary position on the screen. The user can freely move his/her head to sniff at various locations on the screen, and can experience realistic changes in the odor intensity with respect to the sniffing location.

The system apparently uses gel-packs containing different scents, which are heated to release the odour to flow across the screen, and the flow can be controlled via fans to make it seem like the smell is coming from a specific part of the display.

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According to the New Scientist article about the new display, the designers believe that it may be useful for museum exhibits and for advertising screens. For advertisers, who are always on the lookout for new ways of attracting our attention to billboards and displays, this may be the next big boon to their trade, given how smell is considered the most evocative of our senses.

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