The onward march of technology has never been more prevalent as we move into the age of AI. But while tools like ChatGPT and Bing Chat may be causing waves, another innovative technology stands out for sheer novelty and potential—digital scent technology (DST).
DST aims to introduce the sense of smell into our digital lives. In computing terms, this is the forgotten sense. But a fledgling technology is promising to change that.
Let’s take a look at DST and see if it comes up smelling of roses or if the whole technology smells a bit fishy.
How Does Digital Scent Technology Work?
It is worth reiterating that this is an emerging technology, and you are unlikely to see it in your local computer shop soon. However, the foundational principles and mechanisms behind DST are already in place, and ongoing research is refining the technology.
The process is complex, but it can be broken down into three basic steps:
- Scent Creation: This is the initial stage where a specific scent is identified and created. It involves using various chemical compounds to mimic the desired natural odors.
- Scent Digitization: Once the scent is created, it is digitized. This involves creating a unique digital signature for each scent, a specific combination of data representing the unique smell.
- Scent Reproduction: The final stage is the reproduction of the scent. This is where the digital signature is decoded, and the scent is recreated using a device known as a “scent synthesizer.” These devices use a mixture of chemicals to reproduce the scent based on its digital signature.
One way to think about a scent synthesizer is to compare it to a printer. A printer uses different colored ink cartridges to create all the necessary hues in a desired print. A smell synthesizer works similarly, blending the “odor chemicals” from scent cartridges to recreate the desired odor.
Applications of Digital Scent Technology
History is littered with technologies that floundered through a lack of useful applications or interest. Ultimately, it is the usefulness of a technology that will define its fate. On paper, the list of applications for DST is long enough (and useful enough) to ensure it survives a concept called the technology adoption curve (TAC).
Among the potential applications of DST are:
- Virtual Reality Enhancement: Virtual reality is already changing entertainment, but DST can make virtual environments more immersive by adding the dimension of smell. The acrid smell of gunsmoke in a battlefield simulation or the smell of oil and rubber in a racing game could greatly enhance the VR gaming experience.
- E-commerce: Online shoppers could smell products like perfumes or candles before buying, adding a new layer to the shopping experience.
- Therapeutic Uses: By creating specific scents, DST could help treat conditions like anxiety and depression, enhancing the effectiveness of therapeutic practices.
- Culinary Experiences: Imagine smelling a dish before trying out a recipe or ordering food online. DST could revolutionize the way we experience food digitally.
- Environmental Simulation: DST could be used in simulations to train individuals for jobs in specific environments, like firefighters or perfumers, by recreating the scents associated with those environments.
- Ambiance: Like the scent dispensers in restrooms, synthesizers could be programmed to release your favorite scent into the air to add a personalized touch to your living or working space.
The potential applications of DST give the technology a fighting chance of surviving the TAC. It already has diverse uses, and the list will undoubtedly grow as the technology improves and becomes more mainstream.
The Future of DST
The smell of innovation is in the air, which could mean that DST is the next big thing in technology.
This technology is still in its infancy but has huge potential. There are plenty of hurdles to overcome technically. There are also ethical considerations, including many of the same ethical concerns surrounding AI. Additionally, there are likely to be copyright issues. For instance, can you recreate the scent of your favorite perfume without infringing copyright?
But the drive is there, and there are enough genuine potential uses to see it overcome these hurdles.
Looking ahead, improvements in accuracy and the development of smaller, cheaper, and more practical devices are required if DST is to thrive. Additionally, the expansion of digitizable scent libraries will be crucial in broadening its uptake.
We must also consider the societal implications of this technology. How will it change our interactions, our experiences, and our industries? The answers to these questions will shape the trajectory of DST.
Digital Scent Technology: Not to Be Sniffed At
DST still has a long road to travel to join sight & vision as part of the digital experience. But the technology exists, and only time will tell if the streaming video of the future is available in “smell-o-vision” or not.
Certainly, the list of potential applications will act as a driving force, and almost equally certainly, early “mainstream” versions will be of limited use. But this is a path that many everyday technologies have already successfully trod.
For DST, the future smells promising.