'Smellivision' soon to reach your nose


Tel Aviv - Fans of sophisticated computer games may soon have to upgrade their hardware to cope with a new multimedia dimension - the aromatic PC!

And if Israeli mathematician David Harel and biochemist Doron Lancet have their way, it won't be long before a range of olfactory experiences is available at a computer near you.

Blast an enemy and the smell of cordite will waft through the room, or how about a Formula One race session, with the stench of burning rubber and oil lingering in the air?

"Smellivision", "smelly films" or even stinkbombs on the Internet - these options may be close at hand.

The two researchers at the renowned Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv, claim to have decoded smells to such a degree that they can be electronically transported over any distance far or near and unscrambled by a computer at the other end.

An "electronic nose" at one end of the cable and an "aroma mixer" at the other may soon be able to send a whiff from anywhere in the world to another spot. Apparently every conceivable aroma can be assembled from around 150 basic substance components.

The two professors embarked on a research programme lasting two-and-a-half years after being inspired by Israeli businessman Eli Frisch. He was fascinated by the idea of giving the multimedia PC a new dimension.

Together with Harel (head of the computer and mathematics department at the Weizmann Institute) and biochemist Doron Lancet he founded the company sensIT. Harel and Doron went on to develop a series of algorithms, which allow the transmission of smells detected by sensors.

"Technically speaking we're already able to build a machine that could, for instance, reproduce aromas and smells used as part of sophisticated computer games and burn them onto a CD-Rom or DVD disc," Harel told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

"The process is similar to the one used to process photographs electronically, just a lot more complicated," said Harel. He, Lancet and Frisch aim to produce a production-ready smell sensor by the end of the year.

"We've solved the basic problems with transmitting aromas," said Harel. It was also no problem to build an aroma machine that could blend smells stored in a user's archive and release them at will.

"You could send it over the Internet without any trouble," said Harel. "It has to be said though that authentic aromas on the Web would call for a powerful computer."

Both scientists are convinced that olfactory PCs, TV and cinema are just around the corner. "There are all sorts of possible applications from e-commerce to advertising, tourism, medicine or even police investigations," said Harel.

The customer of a flower shop could smell a rose online. Travel agents could offer videos of the South Seas complete with the sound of the ocean and the smell of salty sea air. And what happens if the user doesn't want to smell what's going on? "That's simple, he can just switch off the machine," said professor Harel. - Sapa-DPA


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