Smell-O-Vision for the 21st Century: Phones able to send scented messages are among ten emerging technologies for 2015


  • Scientists sent smell of champagne from Paris to US with iPhone in June 
  • oPhone Duo device can recreate smell out of palette of 32 available scents
  • And the Scentee iPhone attachment can release aroma upon receiving text
  • Emerging technologies forecast by innovation charity Nesta to make it big 
  • Others include life-saving apps and food waste feeding millions of people 

Smartphones will be sending and receiving scented messages by the end of next year, experts say.

The concept is one of ten emerging technologies forecast by innovation charity Nesta to make it big 2015, with others including life-saving apps and food waste feeding millions of people.

It comes six months after scientists managed to send the smell of champagne and macarons from Paris to New York with an iPhone app using a device called the oPhone Duo.


The system consists of an oSnap app which allows users to create an oNote with a smell created out of a palette of 32 available scents that can be combined in 300,000 possible combinations.

The oNote can then be sent to the oPhone hardware – a device which is able to recreate the smell.

Other technology in this field is the Scentee device, which can release a favourite aroma at the same time as a phone clock alarm or when an individual receives a text message.

It also claims to be able to change the taste of food with its mini air-freshener-like alcohol-based aroma cartridges. A user can select to emit a puff of scent at will using the small plastic device.

City University computing professor Adrian Cheok developed the technology behind Scentee and is now working on a device that will send a magnetic signal to a mouthguard in the back of the throat.


Nesta project manager Josh McNorton said: ‘Imagine the next selfie you see posted is accompanied by the scent of perfume. The Instagram photo of your gourmet steak dinner comes with a whiff of buttery mashed potatoes.

‘The olfactory overload of a Sunday afternoon visit to your local flower market can be texted to a friend a thousand miles away. In 2015, I predict that the ability to digitally transmit smells will hit the mainstream.’

It has been more than half a century since the concept of ‘Smell-O-Vision’ was introduced to cinema audiences, making its first widespread appearance in the 1960 film Scent Of Mystery.

The film opened in three specially-equipped theatres in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles – with the idea being that certain odours would be timed to specific points in the narrative.

But the mechanism did not work properly and audience members complained of a hissing noise accompanying the scents – as well as a delay between the actions and their corresponding smells.

Mr McNorton added: ‘While we’ve turned our noses up at past attempts, I believe 2015 is the year “smell-o-vision” will finally lose its stink.’

Another prediction is of a huge innovation in first aid that will see ambulance trusts incorporate smartphone technology locating local trained first aiders, who can respond instead of paramedics.

It is also claimed that in 2015 enough fruit and vegetables will be diverted from food waste to feed millions of people, through ‘gleaning’ harvest food that would be otherwise left to rot in farms.

Of Nesta’s ten 2014 predictions, one of the most interesting is that there would be an ‘introduction of services that help us improve our lives based on the data that we give away every day’.


Smell-O-Vision was a system created in 1960 by Hans Laube, and was used in cinemas during the film Scent of Mystery.

The system was fitted to cinema seats and released 30 smells at different points during the film, triggered by the film’s soundtrack. Smells included pipe tobacco.

In 2013, researchers in Tokyo developed a prototype smelling screen. The smelling screen combines a digital display with four small fans, one at each corner of the display.

Smells are stored in gel packets and are released at set times. The smells are blown parallel to the screen. By varying the speed and strength of each fan, the different smells are moved to specific areas of the screen.

  1. Democracy makes itself at home online: 2015 will see the creation of new political parties organised in radically different ways
  2. Smell-O-Vision loses its stink: This year you’ll receive an SMS with a difference as technology is introduced to transmit scents through your smartphone
  3. Internet of everything, coming to a neighbourhood near you: 2015 will bring new network technologies that connect constellations of low-powered sensors across entire districts, creating widespread smart civic infrastructure
  4. Digital art gets up close and personal: This year digital art will become entrenched in daily life as cultural producers exploit digital technologies to create more accessible experiences
  5. Killer apps for life savers: This year smartphone tech will fuel the biggest innovation in first aid for over 100 years
  6. Crafts get a 21st century makeover: Shared access to digital fabrication tools such as laser cutters and 3D printers will create a new breed of digital artisan manufacturers
  7. Gleaning will change our attitude to food waste: In 2015, enough fruit and veg will be diverted from food waste to offer millions one of their five a day
  8. A bust funded by the crowd: 2015 will see a high-profile blow-up in the world of crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending. But this is a good sign, not a bad one
  9. Programming a new generation of digital makers: From apps to films, in 2015 every young person across the UK will make and share something digital
  10. Crowd-aware billboards: This year cities will play host to Minority Report style billboards broadcasting tailored content based on data from your GPS-enabled phone

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Smellovision loses its stink


This year you’ll receive an SMS with a difference as technology is introduced to transmit scents through your smartphone, says Josh McNorton

smell_o_vision_1Imagine the next selfie you see posted is accompanied by the scent of perfume. The Instagram photo of your gourmet steak dinner comes with a whiff of buttery mashed potatoes. The olfactory overload of a Sunday afternoon visit to your local flower market can be texted to a friend a thousand miles away. In 2015, I predict that the ability to digitally transmit smells will hit the mainstream.

Digitising messages, images and sounds is so last century. In 2014, scientists in the UK, US and Japan have unveiled devices which can electronically simulate smells, providing a direct route to the limbic system of the brain, the part responsible for memory and provoking emotion.

The current leading device for digital smell transmission is a smartphone attachment called Scentee, developed in Japan and available there and in the US. Scentee can release a puff of coffee or bacon-scented mist to wake you up in the morning (unsurprisingly, this technology was used in a promotional campaign by the Oscar Mayer meat company called Wake Up and Smell the Bacon).

Scent transmission

Scentee uses alcohol-based aroma cartridges which come in specific flavours and are housed inside a small plastic device that attaches to the headphone input of a smartphone. The signal is transmitted digitally to the device’s ultrasonic transducer, which then releases the scent as a puff of vapour.

Mugaritz, one of the world’s top-ranked restaurants, has paired Scentee with its mobile app to virtually evoke the aromas of some of its signature dishes. The technology behind Scentee opens the door to a new form of digital escapism. In the case of Mugaritz, users can experience the bouquets of a Michelin-star meal from a restaurant in northern Spain without leaving the UK (or spending the money to eat there).

Adrian Cheok, Professor of Pervasive Computing at City University London, developed the technology behind Scentee and is currently working on a device that doesn’t rely on chemicals or pre-set cartridges. Instead, the latest technology sends a magnetic signal to a mouthguard which sits in the back of the throat and stimulates the olfactory bulb.

Virtual tours

If an electronic mouthguard isn’t to your taste, scientists at Harvard have developed the oPhone, a pipe-shaped device made for receiving scent messages (called oNotes) triggered by an iPhone app called oSnap. The app allows you to take a photo and choose one of thousands of aromas to tag it with before sending. In the very near future, we will use devices like the oPhone to take a virtual tour of Marrakech, absorbing all the sounds, sights and smells of the souks and market square.

Professor Cheok and a team of City University researchers have also been studying the effect of synthetic smells, sent via the Internet, on emotions. The implications for marketing are huge. Could the digital scent of salt water and sea breeze on a travel website increase your likelihood of booking a beach holiday?

It’s been half a century since the concept was first introduced to unimpressed cinema audiences and we’ve since voted it one of the worst inventions of all time. But while we’ve turned our noses up at past attempts, I believe 2015 is the year smellovision will finally lose its stink.

Adrian Cheok will be presenting his latest prototypes and projects at FutureFest, Nesta’s two-day festival of innovation on 14-15 March 2015 in London.

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Mixed Reality Lab Showcase at Most Contagious 2014

Most Contagious is an annual, uniquely curated innovation event in London staged by Contagious. Most Contagious celebrates the biggest innovations and analyses the most impactful marketing from the year to decipher what influence these will have on the immediate future for brands and advertising.

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This year, Most Contagious invited Mixed Reality Lab to showcase our latest devices in the multi sensory communication : RingU, Scentee, and Digital Taste Machine. The event was held on December 10th 2014 at King’s Place, London, right next to the King’s Cross Station. Every year, contagious invites many most impactful innovators from around the world, and we were really excited to be featured in the event and also to be connected with other people from the creative and technology industry. We got a lot of good feedbacks on our research and we were really happy to be inspired by dozens of creative innovators and researchers that we interacted in the event.

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Gadget Man Plans to Feature Kisscea and RingU: Postponed Filming

A popular British TV Show, Gadget Man, hosted by Richard Ayoade which featured Mixed Reality Lab’s Digital Taste Machine, has agreed to work with our lab again and now they want to feature our Kisscea and RingU for their future Valentine’s Day Edition. This filming is really important to our team since it will be our first opportunity for introducing our kisscea, a remote kissing device, to the public so we worked really hard on preparing for the demo. The filming was scheduled on December 12th, 2014 at The Makerversity, located in Somerset House, London. Unfortunately, due to the time limit and some technical difficulties, They needed to postpone the filming for our devices until after the new year. Regardless of the postpone, we had a really great experience on the scheduled filming day. We got to know how a TV show is filmed, and also had a chance to see some interesting innovations happening at the Makerversity, as well as knowing some other cool featured devices for the show, like the chocolate 3d printer . We will keep you updated with our next filming with Gadget Man. In the mean time, please take a look at our demo videos for Kisscea, which we have prepared for the Gadget Man.

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