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Practical Applications of Smell Recordings 172

Posted by Zonk
from the crappy-future dept.
ozmanjusri writes to mention a Tokyo Institute of Technology project to record scents for later playback. The New Scientist article suggests this technology could be used in commercials and medical applications. From the article: "Simply point the gadget at a freshly baked cookie, for example, and it will analyse its odour and reproduce it for you using a host of non-toxic chemicals. The device could be used to improve online shopping by allowing you to sniff foods or fragrances before you buy, to add an extra dimension to virtual reality environments and even to assist military doctors treating soldiers remotely by recreating bile, blood or urine odours that might help a diagnosis."
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Practical Applications of Smell Recordings

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  • by dubmun (891874) on Monday July 03, 2006 @12:21AM (#15648224) Homepage Journal
    Yay! Now I will be able to smell decomposing bodies when I watch CSI...
    • Re:Smell-o-vision (Score:2, Informative)

      by jerkmark (944142)
      Smell-o-vision is right. This idea has been cropping up every few years or so since at least the 1960's, and every time they start trying to list practical applications, the concept veers off into ridiculousness. Maybe the medical uses are valid (I don't know how many diagnoses are odor-critical), but as far as online shopping is concerned, smell is simply not an important enough factor in 99% of my purchases, and I don't know how much I would trust a machine to reproduce the sublties of, say, a fine wine
      • Re:Smell-o-vision (Score:2, Insightful)

        by tmossman (901205)
        "I don't know how much I would trust a machine to reproduce the sublties of, say, a fine wine, or something where smell was particularly telling or vital."

        I'm not a medical expert, but how useful could this really be? I mean, there's no question that this won't catch on with wine connoisseurs. They're a pretty picky bunch by nature; I doubt if they'd trust a machine over their refined noses. Not to mention that there's more to selecting a wine than its scent.

        But medical diagnosis? Seriously? I mean,
        • I think your exactly right. If the exact smell can be diagnosed by a machine why cant you just have the machine give a readout of what chemicals it detected. The human nose is not a very good way for doctors to make a diagnosis.

          The human scent of smell lets us know about immediatly dangerous or immediatly apetizing food and other things. We dont use our nose to track animals or anything much more than warn us when we are putting something in our mouth.
          • > The human nose is not a very good way for doctors to make a diagnosis.

            Actually, the sense of smell has been an invaluable medical tool for centuries. Cyanide poisoning can look like a dozen other medical emergencies, so a smart trauma doc will remember to take a smell of the patient's breath. Smells like almonds? It's cyanide. For years the smell of a wound that had gone gangrenous (but still looked okay) was how war theatre surgeons triaged out the ones who had a better chance of surviving. I've heard
            • Becuase you know how often people are poisoned with cyanide. So often in fact we need to train all doctors to diagnose it without anything but their own senses.
              • Did you willfully go out of your way to miss the point of my post? I never even remotely claimed that doctors should diagnose with nothing but their own senses. However, the doctor's senses - including smell - are just as valuable a part of the diagnostic process as any laboratory work will ever be. If you can't wrap your brain around that simple concept then that's your problem. I won't waste another moment of your valuable time trying to have an above retarded-level conversation.
        • ...I don't doubt that the Japanese will find fantastically weird ways to use this technology, ...

          Three words for you : Used Girls Underwear

          /crawls off to shudder in the corner, murmuring to himself quietly
    • The important application for this is going to be as a blogging tool for dogs. Also, I (finally!) won't have to read my dog his email and he can check his MySpace page on his own.
    • Well, that's not such a bad idea. Viewers certainly want an enhanced sense of realism in their movies/TV, and it has been argued (and personally, I agree) that the reason violence on TV is so popular is that it's NOT realistic enough. That is, by seeing people shot on TV, but not seeing the horrible aftermath, like crying friends and devastated families etc., the attack isn't seen to do the harm that it really does. Perhaps if viewers understood the situations that such things lead to a little more, they
  • Viruses (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ledsock (926049) on Monday July 03, 2006 @12:22AM (#15648227)
    Imagine what a computer virus attacking that could do. Now in addition to having pop-ups, loud noises, and other issues, your computer can smell like vomit when you visit that unscrupulous porn or warez site!
    • Re:Viruses (Score:2, Funny)

      by Julz (9310)
      And they would make it smell like vomit because ....?

      Perhaps other smells might be more appropriate. Then again you could have a kids filter that changes all those nasty pron smells to something really terrible so the kids don't want to be in there.

      Warez could be burning plastic or perhaps the smell of blood, sweat and tears or maybe money.
    • Now in addition to having pop-ups, loud noises, and other issues, your computer can smell like vomit when you visit that unscrupulous porn or warez site!

      You computer would smell like vomit when visiting a porn site?

      I don't want to know what kind of porn you're looking for.
    • However, if these became commonplace perhaps standard pop-ups should use pheromones to change how people react? For example, firewall pop-ups release an odour which makes people feel cautious and hence more likely to read the warning.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 03, 2006 @12:22AM (#15648228)
    In 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
  • Literally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by PavementPizza (907876) on Monday July 03, 2006 @12:23AM (#15648231)
    This is literally vaporware!
    • by tomhudson (43916)

      This is literally vaporware!

      Actually, I think the MPAA has prior art - they've been releasing expensive stinkers for decades.

  • God knows the Big Mac doesn't look good unless it is on TV, so do you think they wil give you the real smell? I find most intrusions in my home annoying and this will go on the list as well. Limited applications? Sure. But please, PLEASE do not assault my sense of smell with what market research shows to be your grandma's fresh baked cookie scent. I don't even like scented candles for God's sake.
  • DigiScents?? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nexzus (673421) on Monday July 03, 2006 @12:30AM (#15648257)
    A Company named DigiScents tried this during the boom. Shockingly enough, the company folded. From Wired, Nov. 99/a. [wired.com]
  • lordy (Score:2, Funny)

    by caffiend2049 (984834)
    I smell a rat.
  • PORN! You could smell her! Thinking about this further, it seems hilarious, insightful, scary, invigorating, fulfilling, unclean, erotic, and brilliant! TIGHT.
  • They were advertising the "sex suit" only for women, it's crazy that they are trying to put sex on the internet before something useful.

    Ah well, sex sells. Even weird kinky smell sex, just include a "urine smell" and you'll sell to perverts everywhere!
    • Just think about those poor souls with foot fetishes! No longer will they have to steal their neighbor's high heels in order to get a sniff - they can just point, click, download, and sniff in the privacy of their own home! Family Guy needs to spoof this. Bad.. "It's Quagmire!"
    • it's crazy that they are trying to put sex on the internet before something useful.

      In the Road Ahead, Bill Gates made pretty much this same observation. He said that historically when a new medium comes around, pretty much the first thing people put on it is sex. Apparently some of the first uses of paper were erotic drawings.

      • And like so much Bill Gates does, he didn't come up with this observation, he probably didn't attribute it to the original source either, and afterwards people like you still attribute it to him.
  • FARTS.. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Boap (559344)
    With a device like that you could record and leave the stinkiest farts around and play great pratical jokes.
  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Monday July 03, 2006 @12:43AM (#15648300) Journal
    What about toxic smells? If those could be reproduced it could act as a passive barrier defense (note I am NOT in flavour if this).

    I think it was in one of the Feist books where the guild of thieves kept one of their headquarters' secret entrances concealed by throwing a dead cat into it once per week, which I find rather clever.

    Would the smell of rotting meat be more effective than a loud siren as a burglar alarm? ("Call the police, honey, I think somebody died in there").

    Would stores buy "smell printers" to pipe the smell of popcorn or fresh-baked bread near the high-margin retail shelves? Conceal the true value of a shelf of wines by piping in the smell of Grange Hermitage over the top? Bad smells near the cash office or complaints desk?

    Could we truly be led around by our noses by people who installed these things commercially? Niven and Barnes made low-grade smell manufacture ("Neutral Scent") a plot element in the original Dream Park, which I think was some sort of unscented pheremone base. It's value was in the fact that the effect was totally and completely stealthy.

    I'd be scared, if I had a sense of smell left.

    • by ozmanjusri (601766) <aussie_bob@@@hotmail...com> on Monday July 03, 2006 @02:24AM (#15648505) Journal
      Would the smell of rotting meat be more effective than a loud siren as a burglar alarm?

      It is more effective in certain applications. Underground mines use Ethyl Mercaptan (stench gas) to warn workers to evacuate the mine http://www.zacon.ca/stench-gas.asp [zacon.ca]. If you've ever experienced it, you'll know there's a strong incentive to get the hell out of there.

    • Would stores buy "smell printers" to pipe the smell of popcorn or fresh-baked bread near the high-margin retail shelves?

      Smell generators have been in use for about a decade outside of some shops, mainly bakeries. Have you ever walked down a street, smelled a good freshly baked bread scent, only to walk into the bakery where the smell is mostly absent and the bread has been sitting in the shelves since the early morning, long baked ? I don't have a reference or name for those items, but they do exist, googl

    • I was thinking that you could use this for training industrial workers. By coming up with a "pretty close" reproduction of a toxic smell, you could tell the workers exactly what to be on the lookout for, without having to resort to "sort of like almonds" generalizations.

      Of course, having cheap gas monitors that warn the workers in advance would be even better, but equipment has safety guards on it already, and they're not 100% effective. Lives are saved when humans notice something amiss and react promptly.
    • Smelliest substance known to man, I think this is present in rotting meat. It is used to give natural gas a distinct and unpleasant smell. Also found in skunk's spray. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethyl_mercaptan [wikipedia.org]
  • perfume? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sumdumass (711423) on Monday July 03, 2006 @12:45AM (#15648309) Journal
    I wonder if this could be used to recreate perfume. imagine a $200 bottle of the stinky stuff being cheaply cloned by this device.

    It shouldn't be hard to hack it up for mass production.
  • And extracting those chemicals that make it up? Then you could have all the cheap perfumes for alot less. Maybe you'd even be able to synthetically 'taste' what you smell. Cooking for guests and screw up the chicken? Just baste with synthetic smell and nobody will know the truth!
  • of copyrighting smells. Can't use it, because it reproduces smells without authorization. There will be lawsuits if this gets off the ground

    At least one smell will suffice for Microsoft, the Bush Administration, the RIAA/MPAA, and AT&T.

    I think I'll call it 'Brown'.

    • Anyone wanting to copyright the smell of some of the patrons here at /. should be allowed; we can file a class action for all the health problems it'll cause...

      I think I need some fresh air just *thinking* about it.
    • Dear Sir,

      As the legal representatives of the Perfume Industrial Trade Association (PITA), we hereby order you to cease and desist from reproducing the scent of one of our represented products, specifically, "Putrid". We have determined that your sweat glands contain the same olfactory composition as "Putrid", which is copyrighted in the U.S. the E.U., China, Japan, and Hell and its environs (incl. Detroit). Pursuant to this order, you are hereby enjoined to:

      • Prevent raising your arms such as to expose y
  • of bile in the morning. Smells like... Diagnosis.
  • by FractalZone (950570) on Monday July 03, 2006 @01:13AM (#15648368) Homepage
    Think about how an odor producing agent, mercaptan [columbiagaspamd.com], is added to natural gas so that people can more easily detect dangerous gas leaks. Likewise, think of how silly those scenes in movies where someone is doused in or surrounded by a liquid that is gasoline without realizing it are not very plausible -- you just know that person would smell the fumes and not light a match or do anything to create a spark.

    There are certain smells that get our attention, not because they are unpleasant, but because they signify something important, perhaps even life threateningly dangerous! When you smell something burning, you almost automatically look around to see where the odor is coming from or if there is visible smoke or fire; unless, of course, you are the sort who can burn almost anything (water?) when trying to cook a meal. :-)

    Olfactory signals might be terribly useful if they could be produced on demand in a very controlled manner. Animals can often tell a lot more about the world around them because they have well developed senses of smell. Humans lack great sniffers for the most part, but we are good at creating tools (machines) to enhance our natural abilities far beyond what nature has given us. Why not make smells more useful?

    Think about the possibility in cosmetics alone. Instead of trinkets such as mood rings, people might wear scent generators that convey specific meanings/moods in a decidedly non-verbal manner. Isolating scents and producing complex odors on demand is a technology that just reeks of potential!
    • unless, of course, you are the sort who can burn almost anything (water?) when trying to cook a meal. :-)

      If I didn't know better, I would think you had met my mother!

      Dear old forgetful mom would often put water on to boil and completely forget about it. Later one of us children.. she had 8 *gasp* would find a "cherry red" pot on the stove and manage to toss it into the sink to cool off with a big cloud of steam. I imagine she still has that old warped pot as it was her favorite one. So yes in a way she
  • by madgeorge (632496) on Monday July 03, 2006 @01:13AM (#15648370)
    I'm blacklisting Dad now. Whatever you do, don't open that email with the subject line "Barking Frog"
    • yeah, i thought of my dad too.

      One practical application I can think of this late/early is in Alzheimers cause the memory of smell for a few certain objects is the first to go. Peppermint and cinnamon are two of I think 12... I'd like to say what the others are... but I forgot ;p
  • by tsa (15680)
    Imagine what you can do if instead of the 96(!) chemicals mentioned in TFA you use pheromones to 'enhance' your movie!
  • He he.. Hey .. Bevis.. He He.. Pull My Finger!

    Nuff said!
  • Smellovision (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Ok, the ability to artificially record and reproduce smells is really cool.
    Smellovision is not.

    By the way, smells were used with some movies before I was even born. They failed utterly. Apparently they couldn't ventilate the theaters fast enough and they were stench pits before the first intermission. Somebody recently tried to add smells to the web. That also failed. I'm guessing that the same reason may have had something to do with it. But that's just a guess.

    Now a more domestic use, would be more like c
  • Dot Com? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by dcapel (913969)
    Was there not a famous dot com company that bombed trying to use this idea?

    Anything that has dot bombed increased my BS-o-meter level.
  • @sumdumass That won't work. The chemicals that are used to recreate the smells are probably themselves as expensive. After all they are "perfumes" too. I wonder if the smell will last for some time. That could be, in a way, disastrous to channel surfing on TV. Also would this mean that new media codecs will come into existence to standardize this? Will there be a flurry of copyrights for all kinds of smell? Would these allow the reproduction of smells for purposes other than digital entertainment? And wha
    • @sumdumass That won't work. The chemicals that are used to recreate the smells are probably themselves as expensive. After all they are "perfumes" too.

      Well, then all forms of carbon should be too expensive to use anywhere - after all nanotubes are made of the stuff.
      Perfumes are compositions of prefabricared standard odors. The exact composition is created by highly paid, highly trained artisans. The raw material is not that expensive; what you're paying for is development costs and exclusivity.
  • Now I finally can complain to my cable company that I don't have smell-o-vision!

    BAM!

    Now if I could only figure out these knobs...
  • by lamasquerade (172547) on Monday July 03, 2006 @01:44AM (#15648432)
    "...allowing you to sniff foods or fragrances before you buy..."

    I would have thought this kind of tech would be as much a nightmare for the fragrance industry (perfumes etc.) as easy and cheap reproduction of music is for the music industry.

    Like the music industry the fragrance industry is selling something fairly low on utilitarian value, and very high in 'cool' (or sign) value. With the music industry people figured out some time ago that the actual product could be attained without the charge. In the fragrance industry, which is so reliant on sign value over use value that you don't even see or hear references to the supposed use value in advertisements (e.g. "CK One smells so good..."), I can imagine that they would really not want to make use of this technology. They'd want to keep the 'mystique' that surrounds the industry and probably would trot out a line like "Our fragrances are so complex and use the purest hopogo-oil and other exotic ingredients which simply can't be replicated by nasty chemicals".

    It's also similar to the challenge that hopefully the diamond industry will face some day, when synthetic diamonds become acceptable to the idiots that pay for real ones. A bit of a waste of technology, but anything that causes less money to flow into these cesspools of human idiocy the better. But IMO, it won't happen with fragrances, really these companies don't even sell the barest shred of a product, just the image, so tech can't really bring them to their knees. Diamonds and music are different while still relying on sign value - you do get something in the end, and if it serves it's main purpose just as well (looking expensive/sounding cool) then the consumer will probably go to the cheaper source.
    • It's also similar to the challenge that hopefully the diamond industry will face some day, when synthetic diamonds become acceptable to the idiots that pay for real ones. A bit of a waste of technology, but anything that causes less money to flow into these cesspools of human idiocy the better. But IMO, it won't happen with fragrances, really these companies don't even sell the barest shred of a product, just the image, so tech can't really bring them to their knees. Diamonds and music are different while

    • A real perfume/aftershave has binding agents to stick the scent to you, which such a device would not have - it would be a window into other smells, not necessarily a replacement for perfume.

      In the future though scents will probably be like MP3 files and you can buy something to brighten your room.
      • Use the same principle as custom tinted paint. Have unscented bases that contain the proper vehicle and scent fixatives to which the scent (and possibly color) is added, e.g.; soap, shampoo, aftershave, cologne, air freshener, lube, body oil, whatever.
  • ... which I don't think it will, I can only imagine the horrors of playing through a game like Doom 3 with this sort of thing added in. It's bad enough that I have to see the terrible creatures of hell as I cut them to pieces with my chaingun, but I can only wince in fear at what they must smell like.

    And, for that matter, this is going to require yet another PCI card, isn't it? Like I have all that many slots left after putting 2 GPU's, a PPU and a sound card in!
  • Using our NextGen microFartchitecture, we were able to process 4 smells a second, including the one of an old AMD cpu with the heatsink removed.
  • i really don't want to get an email with a worm or virus that makes my cell phone/ computer smell like bayonne new jersey... or makes it produce sarin gas
  • by dindi (78034) on Monday July 03, 2006 @02:56AM (#15648553) Homepage
    ..or a broadcast of a smell sample on national TV ...

    Non toxic .. hmm well let's see how long it takes for some chemistry guru to create toxic or narcotic smells from those non-toxic materials ...

    This is no surprise to you if you are over 3rd grade, and visited one single chemistry class, but here is a refresher : there are some very basic elements out there that are completely harmless until you start mixing them together ....

    oh great i will be able to download a bunch of funky smells, or smell the rottening flash while playing doom ... or receive Pron spam with stuff that smells like sex ...

    thanks but no thanks ....

  • by keen (86192) on Monday July 03, 2006 @03:11AM (#15648582)
    What about recording the smell of marijuana or cocaine and launching a massive Denial Of Service attack against Customs and the DEA?

    Woot! I hope I can read Slashdot from my cell in Gitmo. :(
  • I can't see this sort of technology being used for things like games - I think it's one of those things where people are using an outdated concept to reproduce a sense - i.e. we presently fool the eyes into believing things that are not there by showing them a picture. We fool the ears by playing back a recorded sound, so lets fool the olfactory nerves by physically making a smell.

    I think the only way smell will be work as part of a virtual environment such as a game will be to electronically stimulate t
  • "The device could be used to improve ... add an extra dimension ... assist ... help ..."

    Noble ideals, indeed.

    But you already know the real purposes such technology will be put to - SUV ads will smell of pristine forests, cordite, and female pheremones (rather than stale beer, city smog, and unwashed children); McDonalds ads will smell of freshly-cooked Wagu beef, strawberries, and fresh apples (instead of rancid fat, rancid beef, and little pus-filled pastries); Coke ads will smell of ... well you get the

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday July 03, 2006 @04:52AM (#15648757)
    Smell is one of the most "direct" and unfiltered senses the human has. It doesn't go to our sensible brain, it appeals instantly to our emotional areas. Everyone has memories of certain scents, and they're often linked to very emotional states, simply because there is no "picture", no abstract ideal that we can connect to it usually, since it is not such an important sense to us. When we see something, we remember it as an abstract picture of the original, reducing it to the parts required to remember it.

    Smell is recorded in whole, and only on a subconscious level. When you cuddle with your loved one, you will remember his or her scent, not consciously but on a purely emotional base. If you meet someone who uses the same fragrance, you immediately find him or her attractive, too, for the simple reason that he/she smells like the person you love.

    Can anyone else see marketing go crazy over this idea? Bypass our rational filter and hit our emotions directly? I really hope you can turn that smell thingie off as soon as it becomes available for TV. Or the ads will stink even more than they already do.
  • "...what if we want to smell distant objects? Well now we can! Thanks to my new invention ... the Smell-o-scope!"

    "If a dog craps anywhere in the universe, you can bet I won't be out of the loop!"
  • by Secrity (742221) on Monday July 03, 2006 @06:53AM (#15649053)
    If this sort of technology works, it would be great for the air freshener industry. My first question is, if "they" still can't make strawberry air freshers that actually smell like strawberrys, how can they claim to be able to create other smells on demand? The next question is, if this does work, how long before we see copy protection technology applied to perfume? Seriously, if it works, this technology could be very disruptive to the perfume industry, which has the money to buy whatever laws it wants.
  • It seems that while humans are pretty good at smelling things, though maybe not as talented or intereste in smells as say a cat or a dog, we have a limited ability to create smells.

    A massively trained organic chemist, food chemist, chef, patissier, etc. can do it in a given limited field, but we have no ability to create output in the smell spectrum that is so amazingly versatile and broadband as our bodies can sense input (including not just the nose but also connected senses of taste, heat, and reactions like eye watering or itching).

    If such a thing existed as a piano or a programmatic interface to a smell generator this would let people train their sense of smell to a fine degree, perhaps enough even to sense explosives, or water, or poisonous gases at low concentrations. It could be really important in space habitats, where it is likely that telltale scents might be in the air at low concentrations before full failure of a system, especially a hydroponic or recycling system.

    It would also be very useful for training people in diagnosis of disease as smell is apparently a big factor there too. You might find some interesting correlations between how well people score on smell tests and how effective they are in a given field where it is important.
  • a virtual planetarium? Everything in space has its own unique smell.
  • I work at a sewage treatment plant. We have a website. 'nuff said.
  • I have perfume allergies, there are some chemicals used in the creation of scents that really do a number on me, I can see this device either a) providing trhe simulated smell as advertised and then when I purchase the product find the compounds that make it up really make me react or b) everything it productes triggers a reaction.

    Also it may get the smell right but is that all there is to it, I guess I am skeptical as I haven't seen any scales, charts or guide to quantify and measure the units of odor,

  • How cool would it be to email farts to people.
  • sniff foods or fragrances before you buy

    This thing either has a supply of _all_ possible smells (unlikely) or tries to synthesize something 'similar'. Is this really interesting for perfume stores, where the $$$ are exactly in the subtle details. IMHO this is comparable to letting a prospective Ferrari buyer do a test drive in a Skoda.

  • Prof: "Here is my latest invention, the smell-o-scope. We can smell Saturn, Jupiter, and my favorite..."

    Fry: "Oh no, I am not going to sniff Uranus"

    Prof: "huh"

    Fry: "Uranus, the planet?!"

    Prof: "Oh, yes, we changed that planet's name in 2026 to get rid of that joke once and for all."

    Fry: "What did you change it to?"

    Prof: "Urectum"

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