Forget Text Messages, New Phone Sends Smells to Communicate

The oPhone is a new device, created by French-based facility Le Laboratoire, that will send scents like text messages.

The final product is due out later in 2014 and will come with two oPhones. Photo: Le Laboratoire.

Today’s technology allows us to communicate in many different forms, via phone calls, emails and text messages. We can see and hear each other even being hundreds miles away from our partner. But it seems that our future is about to change with the introduction of a new device that makes olfactory communication real.

Le Leboratoire created the oPhone, device capable of transmitting smell signals through smartphones. Developed by students at Harvard University under the direction of researchers at Paris-based facility Le Laboratoire, the Ophone aims to expand digital communications beyond just sight and sound.

“The Ophone will permit us to send olfactory messages instantaneously and around the world,” Le Laboratoire states in its project outline. “These messages, like the text and sound messages we share every day, can be transmitted in crisp olfactory letters – A B C D – precisely in space and in time.”

The unique invention functions with the help of a special tiny cartridge, called oChip, containing olfactive information to produce hundreds of odor signals.

After installing the chip into your iPhone, a Bluetooth-connected app called oTracks enables you to send your friend with an oPhone a smell of your choice at the push of a button.

“The Olfactive Project is a collaboration between artists, designers, scientists and performers built on an old dream of a universal language,” said David Edwards, founder of Le Laboratoire.

“The idea was not just to reproduce an existing way of communicating, but to create a new language.

David Edwards says that the amount of odor signals a chip can send should increase into the thousands in the near future.

“We wanted to find a way of diffusing smells accurately and coupling those smells with images. It was these two ideas that formed the basis for the Ophone. The device therefore not only makes it possible to accurately receive and share smells but also pair them with images on the screen of an Android device.”

The most recent version of the oPhone was unveiled at the Wired UK conference, featuring four cylindrical oPhones which can be fitted with up to eight chips. This created something he called an “odor symphony,” the ability to create a multi-odiferous message. Edwards stated that those odor signals allow him to “create sentences, paragraphs and essays” of odor messages.

The complete oPhone will be released later this year, and will consist of two devices. Edwards said two devices are necessary in order to create multi-layers of smell.

“You can have these great coffees on one side and breads on the other side,” he explains. “There will be some oTracks that use two oPhones and some that use one.”

He also added that the initial consumer product is less about catering to a mobile, urban user and more about creating a sensory experience around food or media consumption. Immediate applications will be a coffee experience, which allows oPhone holders to smell various coffee scents. Edwards is also working with Paris Vapors to integrate oPhone technology into media like books, movies and TV shows, says Wired.

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