The technology of "digital smells" could allow us to transmit odors in cats online

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By Wynne Parry

Having a video chat with a friend or colleague is all about seeing and hearing – at least for now. However, recent experiments in Malaysia suggest that it may be possible to develop an "electric odor" technology capable of transmitting odors as well as images and sounds.

The research is preliminary and not without its critics. But if the electrical smells dissipated, the remote conversations could one day become much more immersive: you will be able to share with a loved one the aroma of a meal that you have just prepared, for example, or you allow you to take a whiff of sea since your vacation at sister beach.

"It's not just the smell," said Adrian Cheok, one of the scientists behind the experiments. "It's part of a virtual reality or an integrated augmented reality. So, for example, you can organize a virtual dinner with your friend via the Internet. You can see them in 3D and share a glass of wine together. "

Evocation of virtual smells

In reality, odors are transmitted when airborne molecules enter the nose, causing specialized nerve cells in the upper airway to emit impulses to the brain. In recent experiments, conducted on 31 test subjects at the Imagineering Institute of the Malaysian city of Nusajaya, researchers used electrodes in the nostrils to deliver weak electrical currents above and behind the nostrils, where find these neurons.

The researchers were able to evoke 10 different virtual smells, notably fruity, woody and mentholated.

Image: Researchers at the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia use electricity to stimulate olfactory receptors.
Researchers at the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia use electricity, which they applied to the nose with the help of electrodes, to stimulate the nerves called olfactory receptors.Institute of Imaging

Scientists can not control the smells felt by subjects. They do not fear that people will want to stick wires every time they chat on video.

Cheok, who is also director of the institute and professor at the City University of London, is planning a day when smells could be detected by some kind of electronic nose (similar devices are now used in food processing plants ). in digital form on the Internet and delivered to the addressee, not by wires in the nose, but by glasses or glasses with electrodes.

"This step was more exploratory," Cheok said of the research. "The next step is to produce it in a more controlled manner, which will allow users to develop software and products that generate an electrical odor."

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