Interview with Hypernetec

The Future of Our Digital Senses

Adrian David Cheok is currently Professor of Pervasive Computing at City University London and the Founder and Director of the Mixed Reality Lab, Singapore. A gifted inventor, academic and speaker, with an impressive research pedigree; his work ranges across wearable computers, ubiquitous computing and pervasive and virtual computer realities.

For Cheok, nothing less than “the next level of the Internet” will suffice. He wants to create a sensing symbiosis – between humans and machines and the analog and digital world. He is striving to form a new sensory vocabulary, that redefines what we experience. If he is successful, the way we perceive our world and the way we sense our reality may be altered drastically forever.

© 2016 Hypernetec Ltd
Recorded at the Wearable Technology Show 2015.

The Future of Our Digital Senses |Hypernetec


You wake to a loving hug from your partner a 1000 miles away provided by haptic sensors in your pyjamas. The scent of your breakfast wafts towards you from your smartphone and, before you leave for your morning appointment, you share a goodbye kiss with your absent lover, using a pressure sensitive, bi-directional kissing device. Welcome, to the weird and wonderful future of the multi-sensory internet, and the visionary, pioneering work of Professor Adrian David Cheok.

Cheok is currently Professor of Pervasive Computing at City University London and the Founder and Director of the Mixed Reality Lab, Singapore. A gifted inventor, academic, and speaker, with an impressive research pedigree; his work ranges across wearable computers, ubiquitous computing and pervasive and virtual computer realities.

In person, he is affable and animated, throwing out ideas with a rapidity that makes you wonder why he never runs out of them. After spending a few minutes with him, it’s easy to see why, because many of his ideas are a quantum step ahead of everyone else’s.

“We live in the information age and can share almost limitless data,” he says, “but it’s still very difficult to share experiences, because an experience, is about all of the five senses.”

The Next Level of Internet

Cheok wants to create the next stage of the internet, a multi-sensory platform enabling entirely new types of communication. From touching at a distance to smelling and tasting in virtual environments; Cheok’s vision of the future will see us connecting and augmenting the physical and virtual in ways that will change our perceptions of both.

Developing effective interfaces to enable human sensory communication over networks, is no small challenge. Cheok collaborates with researchers and engineers across the globe, working to push the envelope of the possible and to develop new tools and interfaces.

“It’s still a very big research issue,” he says. “How do we sense and how do we replicate the sense of touch, taste and smell? The fundamental difficulty is that audio-visual signals, such as light and sound are waves with different frequencies and [while] you can easily turn a frequency into a number and send it over the internet, smell and taste are molecular-based.”

Since molecules cannot be transmitted through the web, Cheok’s approach is to build devices that can create sense perceptions and send the output of the devices as messages over the internet.

Licking Digital Lollipops

Nimesha Ranasinghe, a former student of Cheok’s, recently demonstrated a ‘digital lollipop’ device which uses electrical and thermal stimulation to create artificial taste sensations. Combining temperature variance with electrical currents has (so far) yielded impressive results. Still, the complexity of the human taste response requires that it be paired with our other senses to create a full flavored response.

Cheok is involved in a product called ‘Scentee,’ a mobile messaging system that uses chemical aromas paired to a smartphone app to send smell messages over networks. The scents are released by an accessory plugged into the phone’s dock connector. While this approach has merits, Cheok acknowledges its limitations. He is currently researching the use of magnetic fields and talks of wanting to stimulate the senses directly.

“If you have a real taste, for example, a drop of lemon juice on your tongue, there is some kind of chemical ionisation. But the next level, is that it causes some sort of electrical signal. What we are doing, is directly stimulating with the electrical current, that signal. You can use similar techniques for the touch receptors [and] you can simulate touch using electrical signals. With the olfactory or smell sensor, the principle is the same”.

Ultimately Cheok’s vision is not tied to a single device or fixed approach; it involves using cutting-edge neuroscience and engineering disciplines, to push past the limits of what is currently possible. He is confident that the ever-rising bell curve of technological advancement will see his ideas come to fruition in the next five to ten years.

It is hard to over-estimate how potentially revolutionary a sensory internet will be. Cheok believes that initially, people will attempt to reproduce what is familiar to them, but over time, new kinds of creative expression will develop.

What Will You Program for Dinner?

For Cheok, the future is a place where we will program food, in the same way, we now program our music. Instead of hugging one person, we will embrace thousands. These will be new kinds of sensing and communication experiences that will alter the way we feel and interact with each other on a very deep experiential level.

For this particular professor, nothing less than “the next level of the Internet” will suffice. He wants to create a sensing symbiosis between humans and machines and between the analog and digital. In doing so, he is striving to form a new sensory vocabulary; one that will revolutionise the way we experience the world.

“The most important thing is to keep pushing the barrier,” he says. “Do quantum step innovation, not incremental work. So that’s what we’re aiming for.”


Adrian David Cheok Editor-in-Chief of Multimodal Technologies and Interaction Journal

Adrian David Cheok has been invited to be the Editor-in-Chief of the new journal Multimodal Technologies and Interaction (MTI). 

About MTI

Multimodal Technologies and Interaction (ISSN 2414-4088) is an international, multi/interdisciplinary, open access, peer-reviewed journal which publishes original articles, critical reviews, research notes, and short communications on this subject. MTI focuses on fundamental and applied research dealing with all kinds of technologies that can acquire and/or reproduce unimodal and multimodal digital content that supports interaction (e.g. human–computer, human–robot and animal–computer). Such technologies may produce visual, tactile, sonic, taste, smell, flavor or any other kind of content that can enrich consumer/user experience.

Our aim is to encourage scientists to publish experimental, theoretical and computational results in as much detail as possible, so that results can be easily reproduced. There is, therefore, no restriction on the length of the papers.

  • displays/sensors: visual, tactile/haptic, sonic, taste, smell
  • multimodal interaction, interfaces, and communication
  • human–computer and human–robot relations and interaction
  • animal–computer interaction
  • human factors, cognition
  • multimodal perception
  • smart wearable technology
  • psychology and neuroscience
  • digital and sensory marketing
  • enabling, disruptive technologies
  • multimodal science, technology and interfaces
  • theoretical, social and cultural issues
  • design and evaluation
  • content creation, environments processes and methods
  • application domains

For more information or to submit your manuscript to this journal, visit this link

In a bad mood? Take a whiff of your cellphone | Guardian


Tech innovators are adding a fourth dimension to gadgets and devices: the sense of smell

This device analyzes aromas at Reading Scientific Services, part of Reading University in the UK. Such research could help product developers create digital scent experiences that better mimic the real world. Photograph: Frantzesco Kangaris for the Guardian


Smell remains the most mysterious of the human senses ­­– scientists are still trying to explain why one scent is pleasant to some people and offensive to others, how fragrances conjure memories from years past, and how aromas influence behavior.

“The relationship between individual aromas and emotions can vary considerably from one person to another,” says Beverley Hawkins of the West Coast Institute of Aromatherapy. “There is no guarantee that two people smelling the same aroma will trigger the same memories or emotions. In fact, more often than not, they will not.”

A study released earlier this year by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) supports Hawkins’ thought. Researchers found that the genes the body uses to detect scents vary up to 30% in any two given individuals. They concluded that each person has an “olfactory fingerprint” that triggers a unique reaction to the same odor molecule.

On average, a person experiences about 10,000 scents in a day. “Accordingly, it only makes sense that some of these are more pleasing than others to your senses,” says Elizabeth Musmanno, president of theFragrance Foundation. “And this in turn absolutely affects your mood.”

Making smell digital

Scientists have long known that the sense of smell serves as a type of bodyguard, warning people about dangers such as spoiled food or a fire. And there is a clear connection between the sense of smell and the sense of taste. Yet despite their strong impact on our bodies, those two senses are often not at the forefront of our minds as we go about our daily routines – mealtimes being the exception, of course.

“All nutrients that enter our body are monitored by the senses of taste and smell, so these senses are very important in general,” says Dr Richard Doty, director of theSmell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “Unfortunately they are taken for granted until they become injured or otherwise disabled.”

That could change as product developers move closer toward creating digital experiences that better mimic the real world. For example, Oscar Mayer collaborated with computer scientist Adrian Cheok to design a phone attachment that releases the scent of bacon – and plays the sound of frying – at a preset time. The Wake Up and Smell the Bacon project won the Most Creative Use of Technology prize at the 2015 Shorty Awards.

Another recent invention is the Ophone, a device invented by Harvard University biomedical engineers that allows users to send “smell messages” in a method that’s akin to texting. Also, the Japanese company Scentee has built odor cartridges that attach to a phone’s earbud jack. One intended use is to trick a user’s tastebuds into believing he’s eating, say, a delicious steak instead of a bland salad – a nice way to make dieting more enjoyable.

Musmanno notes another emerging trend: scenting environments. A store can try to create an inviting place for shopping, a hotel may want to convey the scent of luxury or a 4D movie will perhaps use aromas to tell a story.Glade explored the connection between scent, emotion, and interactive and sensory experiences at its Museum of Feelings exhibit in New York City during the holiday season. Visitors walked through a variety of galleries that were inspired by fragrances and learned about how scent impacts emotions.

Advances in scent technology could also stretch to the workplace. Doty imagines a future in which businesses use smells to boost employee performance. “I can foresee the use of odors in public places such as lobbies of buildings to energize workers,” he says. “This has to be done carefully, however, as some people are allergic to certain odors.”

And then there’s virtual reality. For now, VR headsets are able to produce a fairly realistic replication of scenery and human interactions via two senses: sight and hearing. However for a true real-world experience, the other senses will have to be stimulated, too. “Most likely, smells will be included in virtual reality scenarios just to enhance the experience,” says Doty.

There are challenges in turning scents digital, as they’re not nearly as adaptable to mass electronic distribution as images and sound. However, “as we continue to learn more about our sense of smell and what it can do, there will most likely be more applications in the future”, Musmanno says.

“Scent will definitely be part of the evolution of technology. The more the sense of smell is studied, the more amazing it is discovered to be.”

This content is paid for by SC Johnson