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Smell-o-grams: backing into the future


By: Scott Bradner


The South Korean Ministry of Information and Communication recently surveyed 3,500 South Korean techies on their views of what the tech future holds.  Sadly, the prediction that the press seized on says more about the press than the future.


According to the press coverage ( the survey, which does not seem to be on-line yet at the Ministry's English site (, made a number of predictions including exoskeletons for soldiers, eyeglasses with built in 3D cameras and nano scale robots that would be used to clear clogged blood vessels.  None of these ideas are new, for example nano scale robots were predicted by Ed Fredkin ( in the mid 1960s, but at least they seem to be things that, if developed, could be generally useful.


But the prediction that was highlighted in all the press coverage I saw concerned the ability to send smell-a-grams, i.e., command remote devices to produce smells on command by 2015.  I'm not quite sure why this idea is so attractive.  This is also far from a new idea.  I first saw mention of this sort of thing in a usenet posting sometime in the 1980s that listed scores of smells you might be able to send to another (including: diapers, fresh; diapers, used; diapers, in the hamper, 9 days old).  And that was two decades after Aroma-Rama was used to send smells into theaters showing the film "Behind the Great Wall" and Smell-O-Vision was used to do the same in theaters showing the 1960 film "Scent of Mystery."  Safe to say, the idea of smelling up a theater (more than they normally smell), in time with action on the screen has not caught on.


That is not to say that some people do not think the idea as potential.  For example, Trisenx Corp ( sells a device that plugs into a PC to "get your smell on" (as their web page puts it).  That device costs $395.  They also sell a $895 software package that developers can use to create "Scent Enabled Content."


I can see where such a device could be useful, for example in a store to demonstrate different perfumes (assuming the device could accurately reproduce the nuances of perfumes). But I fail to see anything like this becoming a normal part of home or office computers.  Why would you want it?  Advertisers might love the idea at first but I expect would quickly find that users turned them off to avoid smelling up the house, or worse let your coworkers know what you were looking at.  (See Julia Williams article in Associated Content for some of the abuse that advertisers might be tempted to try  - 


The potentials for denial of service attacks using this technology are frightening to contemplate.  This goes well beyond the idea of stinking out the office with vile odors, think of the implications of sending a target whose home office is in the country the scent of a female moose in heat.


I just cannot figure out why the press found this old failed idea one worthy of highlighting as a future.  It does fit into my general feeling that too many in the press lack basic common sense (different than common scents) when it comes to what people would actually want to do. 


disclaimer: Google gets over a thousand hits for "scent" and "" but none of them represent the university's view on smell-o-grams, nor does this column.