Photo courtesy DigiScents

Creating a Virtual Stink

Can you imagine a world with no smells? Think of some of the smells that you would never be able to enjoy, like homemade cookies, flowers or that scent that follows a summer rain. Smell adds so much to our experiences. Of course, without smell there is also no taste, since our sense of taste is almost completely dependent on our sense of smell. This world without smell exists on the Internet -- but that is about to change. You will soon have your choice of two computer peripheral devices that will make your nose as involved in your Web experience as your eyes and ears. Let's take a look at these devices.

iSmell Personal Scent Synthesizer

In Oakland, Calif., DigiScents, Inc. is developing a digital scent device, called the iSmell. They are fully aware of how people will respond to the device's tongue-in-cheek name. Mentioning the iSmell to a friend is likely to provoke instant laughter. The company hopes the device's name will grab consumers' attention and help to sell this gadget designed to transmit digitized smells through your computer.

A prototype of the iSmell Personal Scent Synthesizer is shaped like a shark's fin, and it will be connected to your PC through a serial or universal serial bus (USB) port. It can be plugged into any ordinary electrical outlet. Here's how it works:

  • DigiScents has indexed thousands of smells based on their chemical structure and their place on the scent spectrum.
  • Each scent is then coded and digitized into a small file.
  • The digital file is embedded in Web content or e-mail.
  • A user requests or triggers the file by clicking a mouse or opening an e-mail.
  • A small amount of the aroma is emitted by the device in the direct vicinity of the user.

The iSmell can create thousands of everyday scents with a small cartridge that contains 128 primary odors. These primary odors are mixed together to generate other smells that closely replicate common natural and manmade odors. The scent cartridge, like a printer's toner cartridge, will have to be replaced periodically to maintain the scent accuracy.

DigiScents has formed partnerships with several Web, interactive media and gaming companies to bring scents to your computer. Real Networks plans to make DigiScents' ScentStream software available to its more than 115 million RealPlayer users. DigiScents has not announced when the iSmell will be available or how much it will cost.

SENX Scent Device

TriSenx is planning to take you one step further, by allowing users to not only download scents, but to print out flavors that can be tasted. The Savannah, Ga., based company has developed a patented technology that allows users to print smells onto thick fiber paper sheets and taste specific flavors by licking the paper coated with the smell.

The SENX machine is a printer-like desktop device that will produce smells based on data programmed into a Web page. SENX stands for Sensory Enhanced Net eXperience. Like the iSmell, the SENX machine will be activated by user actions. The fragrances and aromas are stored in a disposable cartridge within the SENX. This cartridge has 20 chambers, each holding a distinct scent. Thousands of smells can be created with a 20-chamber cartridge and a 40-palette rendition, which composes two separate cartridges.

The SENX is 5.5 inches wide, 8 inches long and 2.5 inches tall (14 x 20 x 6.4 cm). Users will plug the device into an open external COM port on their computers, and it will be powered by a DC 6-volt rechargeable battery. TriSenx is already taking orders for their SENX machine, which will cost $269 and include the SenxWare Scent Design Studio Software.