Despite a nearly complete absence of popular demand for such a product, engineers develop smell-o-vision

Even though almost nobody has ever actually wanted a television that can be programmed to emit odors, a team at the University of California, San Diego, has gone ahead and made one anyway.

Don Hammond / Design Pics / Newscom
Scientists have developed a way to deliver odors via a television.

An odoriferous entertainment system is the technology that no one demands but that many have attempted to invent. Putting aside the question of whether anyone actually desires to smell the saltwater breeze kicking down the Jersey Shore or the smoky vapors curling off a Bobby Flay steak, engineers at the University of California, San Diego, have designed a plausible way to deliver fragrant delights through a television.

"We are getting into the realm of virtual reality," said Sungho Jin, the project leader, who designed and tested an early prototype for Samsung’s research and development group.

In 1960, an adventurous filmmaker tried to do something similar, pumping smells through pipes in the theater chairs during "Scent of Mystery," a gimmicky vehicle for the new technology. It was the first and last movie to be shot in the scent-o-vision format.

Jin designed his smelly telly with earlier failures in mind and has come up with a more practical approach.

"Instead of a mechanical activation, we use electrical activation. It would be easier to integrate into an existing system," Jin told InnovationNewsDaily.

The device would contain up to 10,000 unique liquids, stored in an array of tiny chambers. When activated, a wire running through the array will heat the correct liquid. As the contents vaporize and pressure in the chamber builds, some of it escapes through a compressed hole in the chamber. Jin has run tests with a couple of perfumes and found that people could identify the smells while 30 cm away from the screen.

But most of the 10,000 liquefied odor concoctions don’t exist yet. Getting people to use scented televisions will require an infusion of innovation from perfume makers. If Samsung follows up on their research, a lot of money could go into capturing and reproducing everyday smells, Jin said.

"Nobody makes a liquid that will generate a pizza smell, but if you create the demand somebody will come up with it," Jin said.

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