This episode: We visit a family farm in northern Greece, talk future tech with Adrian David Cheok of the Mixed Reality Lab, explore the US craft-beer movement with Steve Hindy of Brooklyn Brewery, discuss branding with Jeanette Pritchard, look at watchmaking in Australia, and try to predict the future of Burberry with the team at Winkreative.
Over 250 events took place in UK universities last week to celebrate Universities Week – a five-day festivity where researchers leave the labs to share their work with the public. Now in its fourth year, the main event – and the biggest yet – took place at the Natural History Museum.
City University staff modelling the Scentee app, ‘digital lollypop’…and some lemons. Photograph: City University
Adrian David Cheok, professor of pervasive computing at City University, London, featuring the phone that wakes you up to the smell of bacon
Tell me about your research
“We are trying to bring all the five senses to the internet, so we can transmit and communicate in a multisensory way.”
OK, so how does it work?
“We have a device called Scentee which you attach to your mobile phone. What it does is emit a puff of scent, such as bacon, coffee or lavender, (using chemical cartridges) when you send someone a text message. We have similar devices to produce taste using only electrical current. So if you’re cooking, you can send the taste and smell of your cooking to all of your Facebook friends. We are also looking at touch technology, making devices like RingU, where you connect your ring to the internet via your mobile phone. You can be thinking of your friend, who might be anywhere in the world, and squeeze your ring and they will then get a squeeze on their finger.”
Why should the public be interested in your research?
“Currently the internet is very much about audio and visual communication. But the sense of touch, taste and smell are very important in our physical communication – these senses are connected to the limbic system of the brain which is responsible for emotion and memory. So when you’re chatting online or Skyping, you actually lose a lot of the human emotion. We want to bring these senses to the internet so in the future you will be able to have a sense of presence.”
What are the challenges you face?
“There’s a saying that in the 21st century the most valuable research is time, because now with the internet we basically have infinite information. Yes, time and funding are very important, but you need to have some creativity. You need to have students who are willing to not do incremental work, but what I call quantum step work. In the atom the electrons will fly around in the one band, but that is incremental work. What you need to do is jump to the next quantum gap. We need to have young people who will become scientists and engineers, but it’s really great during education if they are exposed to the creative arts and other fields so they can understand creativity and design.
“We have to remove the barrier between academia and the public, and if you don’t, it is the universities that are going to suffer, because knowledge is going to become more and more free – and you are seeing this now with things like Ted talks. Universities and researchers have to keep up with the internet age and that’s very important to survive in the 21st century.”
What excites you about research?
“I want to invent completely new technology and push the barrier of knowledge. People might think it is really wacky or crazy at the time, but then when you can show them that it really works, you can get a lot of very positive feedback. The most important thing to do is to be totally original.”
When communicating online, words sometimes just aren’t enough, says City University London Professor Adrian David Cheok.
Now, he has a solution: researchers at his Mixed Reality Lab on campus are coming up with ways to say it with a smell — developing cell phone apps and plug-ins that emit scents like flowers, food and spices.
“Smell is a very powerful, powerful sense. It can trigger an emotion or memory at a subconscious level — before we logically think about it,” Cheok tells CBS News.
The lab has already created technology able to send the smell of flowers to a loved one via text — provided the recipient has a special digital device plugged into the earphone jack of their smartphone.
The first application of this technology was the Hana Yakiniku plug-in released in Japan last year. It became available internationally on Amazon in February. The video marketing the Hana Yakiniku attachment presents hilarious digital smell solutions to common problems: the poor college student, for example, who can now dine with his iPhone and sniff beef-scented cartridges of the meat he can’t afford, while eating plain rice for lunch.
The plug in sells for about $35. Refill cartridges come in scents like lavender, coffee, and rosemary — oddly, though, there are no refills for the scent of meat, as advertised in the video. The refills cost about $5.
The technology can be used in a range of commercial applications, from diet programs, advertising and health care, to cooking recipes and personal communications.
“You can send someone a Facebook message, but instead of just putting you are ‘feeling happy,’ you’ll also have the floral smell,” Cheok says.
“For our everyday communication, we want to be able to have a much wider range of experiences being transmitted. Not just sending data, not just sending information — we want to share our experiences,” he adds.
Kraft Food’s Oscar Mayer brand is embracing new smell technology. Its Wake Up & Smell The Bacon internet campaign and giveaway of bacon-scented iPhone plug-ins is going viral. The dream-scape concept video features a woman waking up to the smell of bacon wafting from the device, which can be set to go off with an iPhone’s alarm clock. The official YouTube video racked up more than a half-a-million hits in less than a month.
“People never get tired of bacon,” says Tom Bick, Sr. Director of Integrated Marketing and Advertising for Oscar Mayer. “[We’re] thrilled…to give bacon aficionados a new reason to welcome their morning alarm clocks.”
Oscar Mayer says they’ve received more than 148,000 applications online to receive one of “a few thousand” free plug-in bacon-scent cartridges, which are good for about 100 uses.
When CBS News informally surveyed Londoners, showing them the floral-scented plug-in device attached to an iPhone, reviews were mixed.
“First I thought it was a microphone, because it kind of looks like one. But yeah, it does smell a bit like air freshener,” said Dario Medina, a student from Spain.
But Londoners Gaya Pathma and Allen Koshy seem more impressed by the technology involved than by the smell.
“Just because it is new and different right now, it might be just weird at the moment,” says Koshy. “But once it becomes a trend or something, it will be just fine.”
“It is a scent coming out of a phone. It was a bit scary, but really nice,” Pathma says.
Will touch, smell and taste be part of the Internet of Everything experience? The ‘pervasive computing’ department of a UK university recently launched a mobile app capable of transmitting aromas remotely, paving the way for a new era of multi-sensory digital communications.
Experts have plenty of ideas about what will constitute the next wave of the Internet and mobile communications. But in the ‘Pervasive Computing’ department of City University London in the UK, Professor Adrian Cheok and his team are certain this will involve a fuller sensory experience – involving smell, taste and touch.
It is a future that is already starting to take shape. In late January, Professor Cheok took his department’s technology to the world-renowned Madrid Fusion culinary festival in Spain, where he unveiled a mobile device and app combination – Scentee – which is capable of emitting food flavors. The technology, developed with a partner in Japan, is believed to be a world first.
Because of the context of the launch, the emphasis at the Madrid festival was the potential for chefs to showcase more of what they do to potential customers – above and beyond photos of their dishes which rarely do their creations justice. But Cheok notes that this is just a glimpse of what’s possible.
‘Wish you were here’
Cheok’s background is in augmented reality – the type of technology we’re seeing now in innovations such as Google Glass. But to achieve a rich simulated reality you need to go beyond audio-visual media, he says. This is also the next area of potential for the Internet, he claims.
“Smell, taste and touch are important means of communication,” Cheok explains. “As we move beyond the ‘information age’ to an era of sharing experiences, what we want to do is give others more of a sense of ‘being there’.”
That means being able to smell the coffee, taste the ice-cream, and feel the touch of another person. Cheok’s innovations include ‘huggable pajamas’, “so parents/grandparents and kids can feel each other’s presence from opposite sides of the world via the Internet,” he explains. A more practical, scaled-down version of this is a wearable ring – RingU – that can remotely transmit a squeeze to a loved one’s hand (via a Bluetooth 4.0 connection to a smartphone). “Touch is so important for communication, and for times when you can’t take a call, receiving a reassuring squeeze via the fingers can mean a lot.” Remote ‘kissing’ applications are further areas of exploration.
Taste and smell, meanwhile, are important because they are attached to the limbic system and associated parts of the brain that are responsible for emotion, mood and memory. The ability to simulate these sensory experiences at distance has great potential in all sorts of applications, from in-store advertising (for example, assigning wafts of scent to frozen food aisles – of what a product would smell like when cooked), to the use of smell as a memory trigger (with potential use for Alzheimer’s patients, and so on).
So how does it all work? At this stage the technology is pretty crude, but undoubtedly this will be refined in future iterations, once the mechanics have been perfected.
In a taste scenario, a device with electrodes is used to stimulate taste neurons and taste sensations on the tongue, activated by digitized information sent over the Internet (as chemicals themselves can’t be transmitted). Smell, which continues to be a work in progress, is the subject of similar projects, this time applying magnetic fields to the back of the mouth to stimulate the olfactory receptor, again without chemicals. In the case of Scentee, the smelling device is a bit like an inkjet printer, containing sachets of scents, triggered by a smartphone app.
Cheok sees potential for a fuller sensory experience in TV, cinema and art as well as ‘emotional’ advertising, medical applications, and remote interpersonal communications. The gaming world will undoubtedly be keen to embrace it too – creating even deeper immersion experiences where players are able to smell the burning rubber during a car chase.
He says his university department in the UK is one of only a few groups of computer scientists globally to be looking seriously at multi-sensory media today. The City University London Pervasive Computing faculty combines several disciplines, from electrical engineering (Cheok’s background), to neuroscience.
Cheok has connections to a team in Japan which is doing related work. In particular, a professor in Tokyo is working on new kitchen utensils that can alter the taste of food, for example to artificially make a dish appear sweeter or saltier – without the need to add the actual ingredient. With growing pressure on families and food producers to reduce levels of sugar and salt, this could be a development with both positive health implications and considerable commercial mileage.
Augmented reality is yesterday’s news. Wired.co.uk takes an in-depth look at some of the developing technology designed to virtually stimulate all five senses
“It’s very strong,” I’m warned, but it is already too late — the sour taste of lemons has hit and I’m reminded instantly of how I never could finish those Toxic Waste sweets. My tongue, which is wedged between two metal sensors, cannot bear it for more than a few seconds even now.
I pull off the electrodes and the sensation vanishes. By passing an electrical current through my tongue, they had temporarily tricked my taste receptors into experiencing a sour taste. Varying the frequency of the current allows the electrodes to also simulate other tastes — sweet, salt and bitter.
Wired.co.uk first saw this taste actuator device when it part of a shortlisted proposal for Ferran Adrià’s Hacking Bullipedia competition. The proposal, put together by Professor Adrian Cheok, founder and director of Singapore’s Mixed Reality Lab, didn’t win the competition, but one of the other main elements of Cheok’s proposal has already successfully been made into a commercial product.
The Scentee is a module that can be attached to the bottom of a smartphone and emits puff of scent using chemical cartridges. It simply slots into the phone’s headphone jack and works in conjunction with an app. The basic idea behind it is that you can send aromas over the internet, although the technology is increasingly being appropriated as a marketing tool.
While the Scentee may have failed to win favour with Ferran Adrià, that doesn’t mean there’s no place for it in the world of fine dining. In one commercial project the device, along with a dedicated app, is being used to create a pre-dinner treat for customers of the Michelin-starred Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain, which is currently listed as the fourth best restaurant in the world.
Mugaritz’s head chef, who trained under Adrià at El Bulli, is using the Scentee to connect with customers who might make bookings several months in advance, by giving them a small taste (or whiff) of what to expect from one of his dishes beforehand.
“It’s basically very simple, they give you different kinds of seeds in this bowl and you grind it and it’s multisensory — the sound, the smell, the vision — and the taste of course — so finally you drink it,” explains Cheok.
The Mugaritz team created an app that they will tell diners to download when they send them the Scentee device. The app recreates virtually the experience of crushing the seeds in a pestle and mortar, allowing the user to experience the sound and smell of making the dish. Holding the phone horizontal, Cheok demos the app, which allows for a partial view inside a mortar. As the phone — which acts as the pestle — is gently moved around using a stirring action however, more of the mortar is shown and seeds drop into the bowl with a tinkle.
“That’s the actual sound they recorded from the mortar,” he says, as it rings gently. After gently rotating the phone for a while, the Scentee device emits puffs of pepper, sesame and saffron, all of which were also created in the restaurant’s kitchen. “What he’s saying is that he wants to share the experience of the restaurant even before you go there.
WAKE UP AND SMELL THE BACON
The Scentee is also being used more widely in advertising campaigns, including on television. One particular campaign in the US has seen bacon company Oscar Meyer make a thousand or so bacon capsule, which it is sending out with Scentees to competition winners, with the promises they can wake up to the smell of fresh bacon as their phone goes off in the morning.
While there is nothing else quite like the Scentee available on the market, the chemical stimulation of smell is not in itself particularly new idea. At the moment, however, Cheok is planning to use his previous work using the Scentee and the taste actuator to help him try and build an element that will be able to stimulate smell electronically.
“If we can do it, I think it would be the first time anyone makes an artificial smell sensation,” says Cheok. It’s a tricky task because of where the olfactory bulb — the neural structure that perceives odours — sits in the brain. It’s tucked right at the back of the nasal cavity and is very soft and spongy, which would make it hard to attach electrodes to even if it could be reached. Instead, Cheok has something completely non-invasive in mind.
“We will put a magnetic coil at the back of the mouth — so maybe something like a dental guard you can wear — and because the olfactory bulb is quite close to the palatine bone, we can use time-varying magnetic fields to produce electrical currents in the olfactory bulbs. That will then produce artificial smell simulation, similar to the taste,” he explains.
“Using this technique, we can also produce the more complicated smells so because you know our tongue is only the basic five tastes — sour, salty, sweet, bitter and umami — everything else which is actually flavour is from our nasal cavity, so when we develop this it’ll be much more complicated.”
This is the research Cheok is currently undertaking at his lab at City University in London where he is professor of pervasive computing. While he’s not sure actually sure what kind of product it might become a part of yet, he says he confident that “something will come along”. “Sometimes you have to push the barriers of science and then people will come up with their own application.”
Cheok has been based at City University for under a year, before which he was based at Keio University in Japan and the National University of Singapore. He first became interested in the kind of simulating touch, smell and taste when he was working on a project to build an augmented reality toolkit about ten years ago. While it was groundbreaking at the time, he quickly realised it was stimulating only one of our senses, despite all the available data and potential for communication across multiple channels. “So that’s basically the motivation,” he says. “Can we go from the age of information to the age of experience?”
THE AGE OF VIRTUAL INTIMACY
“You can have a virtual animal there — a 3D dog or something — but people always wanted to touch it, it’s just a natural reaction. When you see objects, touching is a very important part of how we explore the world, so I realised we had to go beyond just augmenting our vision and we should also try to augment all of the five senses. More and more of our communication now is done online, but online we still can’t get the sense of presence we have in the physical world,” said Cheok.
This started him working on replicating touch. He kicked off his research by developing ways for people to overcome the difficulties of interacting with their pets from a distance (“it’s very hard to make a telephone call, because we can’t speak to animals yet”), by creating a squeezable doll that would trigger pressure actuators on the animal’s body.
This research morphed into a project called the Huggy Pajama, which was designed to allow similar communication between parents and toddlers wearing haptic jackets. The concept has now been turned into a commercial product that’s specifically designed to help give comfort to children with autism who have difficulty with human-to-human contact.
Cheok along with his colleagues at the National University in Singapore conducted research into the emotional impact of this kind of touch, publishing a paper in 2008 entitledSqueeze me, but don’t tease me, which concluded that “touch seems to be a special sensory signal that influences recipients in the absence of conscious reflection and that promotes prosocial behaviour”.
It’s already a well-known phenomenon that if you’re being touched by another human while watching a horror film, you have a decreased fear response, but the team’s research showed that touch using virtual devices provoked an almost identical decrease in fear response.
“Similar to taste and smell, touch has a different part of the brain processing the haptic sensation than audiovisual. So it’s not like if you just write ‘hug’ in your email — it’s definitely different actually really hugging, because it’s a different part of your brain which is actuated when you’re doing the hug. Having this actual touch sensation does produce a different response.”
Of course there are many different potential applications here for consumer products too. Cheok and his small team at City are currently working hard to meet their deadline on the RingU, a piece of jewellery that transmits a haptic vibration to the wearer of a paired ring when the silicon gem on the top is pressed. Three tiny LEDs, smaller than pin heads will also cause the ring to glow gently when the ‘hug’ is transmitted. The finished product is due to launch in Japan and Korea first, and then will eventually be available in the UK as well.
As well as being a standalone consumer product used for long-distance personal communication, Cheok envisages that the RingU will be branded by bands, who will then be able to communicate with teenage fans at concerts in a similar way to Xylobands. “Of course one pop star can’t hug a million fans, but this way we can have a virtual hug and so fans will like that — a different kind of connection.
“With vision and sound it is omni-directional, so you can go to a concert and hundreds of thousands of people can hear the music, but with touch it’s very limited, it’s very intimate,” he adds.
Speaking of intimate, Cheok is also currently working on the latest version of the Kissenger, a device that allows people to send kiss messages over the internet. Wired.co.uk first reported on the product when it involved kissing spherical robotic pigs, but the new iteration will look very different (and, thankfully, not at all like an animal). Users will attach a module to the bottom of their smartphones, a little bit like the Scentee, and will then be able to kiss face-to-face while video calling. The resolution on the module will be much higher, says Cheok, working like a pin image captor in order to provide a very detailed and precise level of feedback.
It’s not only whimsical consumer products being developed thanks to the evolving haptic touch technology though. As Cheok points out, there are also a lot of potential applications in related areas like robotics. “Robots need to be able to sense the physical world, especially humanoid robots, and also for example, home robots. It will be carrying grandma to bed or something and so it needs to be able to have very realistic touch.”
Collaboration is not only a vital part of finding applications for the technology, but for understanding the potential scientific benefits of the research. While attempting to create the electrical smell simulator, Cheok will be working alongside a neuroscientist from the University of Marseille to discover more about the actual areas of the brain that are being stimulated when people experience electrical tastes and smells, compared to those being stimulated when they experience the real deal.
“For example, this,” says Cheok gesturing to the taste actuator, “allows taste perception of sour, but we’re not really sure yet whether it stimulates the same parts of the brain as the real sour, so we’re going to do these experiments and compare.” They will study the brain signals they observe from people using the smell and taste technology inside an MFRI machine, as well as brain signals from people who have had drops of liquid put on their tongues.
PROGRAMMING DREAMS WITH SMELL
Many of Cheoks biggest hopes and dreams for future research will require closer work with neuroscientists, particularly to test the technology as widely as possible across potential areas for application, including mental health. Even though he could potentially pursue the entrepreneurship opportunities his research opens up, his ambitions lie in pushing the boundaries of science.
“I’ve been thinking for a few years now, can we interface with people when they’re sleeping? So much of computer technology is focused on the conscious communication, but a lot of communication is subconscious.”
Cheok has been inspired to pursue this idea further by a piece of recent research that discovered people could be taught to remember aromas they had smelt for the first time when they were asleep. After exposing test subjects to smells while sleeping, they were then put in a magnetic imaging machine, which could see that when exposed to that same smell again, the area of the brain relating to memory was activated.
“Because smell is connected to emotion, we want to see if we can programme people’s dreams,” states Cheok boldly. “We want to see if we can use these kind of smell devices, for example, to make a happy dream or a fearful dream.” His hope is that this could potentially be used to help treat those who suffer from bad dreams due to post-traumatic stress.
Once they have built the technology, the first step would be to test its effect on the emotion of people who are awake, and then repeat the experiment on people who are asleep. From there, they could go about beginning to work out how people would use it — although, says Cheok, given that most people take their phones to bed with them these days, that should be fairly easy. “You’ve already got a device that’s a computer and can emit a smell… so then you could use this to affect people’s sleep and maybe even new kinds of learning.”
Cheok’s big dreams do not stop there though. His current work relies on finding ways to stimulate the sensors that activate the olfactory bulb and simulate the effects of touch, but ultimately he would like to be able to find a way to bypass the sensors and go to directly to the brain itself.
“This might seem a little bit science fiction now, but already there’s been some work where they can connect the optical fibre to the neuron of an animal,” he says. “That means we can already send some electrical signal from a computer to a neuron and it really won’t take long until we can do this for hundreds and thousands of neurons. Eventually I think we’re going to see in our lifetime some direct brain interface and that will be probably the next stage of this research.”
This moonshot strategy might seem overly ambitious, but it’s worked for Cheok before and he believes he will again. “What I always say to students is do research that is a quantum step, not just incremental,” he says. “We’re not always successful, because sometimes you can’t get a thing to work.. but that’s what we’re aiming for.”
(CNN) — Holiday albums could be less forgettable when pictures of a Mediterranean meal carry the scent of olives; a selfie on the beach contains a trace of salt spray or a rainy London scene conveys the distinctive aroma of freshly wet concrete.
If the digital age has increased the volume of communication, it may not have improved the quality. Reversing that trend is the goal of a new generation of sensory engineers who are going beyond sight and sound to produce devices that use our untapped faculties. Perhaps the most exciting breakthroughs right now are arriving in the form of smell-centered communication.
“Our motto is ‘aroma tells a thousand pictures'”, says Dr. David Edwards, biomedical engineer at Harvard and founder of Le Laboratoire, known for producing radical sensory devices such as calorie-free chocolate spray. Every human has thousands of distinct smell sensors, Edwards explains, a resource he taps with his newest invention the oPhone.
Set for a beta launch in July, this phone offers the most sophisticated smell messaging yet created. In collaboration with Paris perfumers Givaudan and baristas Café Coutume, Edwards has created a menu of scents, contained in ‘Ochips’. MIT electrical engineer Eyal Shahar designed containers for them that release when heated by the touch of a button, but cool quickly to keep smells distinct and localized, a historic difficulty with the much-mocked smell-o-vision experiments in cinema.
Mix and match
The oPhone user can mix and match aromas and then send their composition as a message, which will be recreated on a fellow user’s device. Up to 356 combinations will be possible in the first wave, rising to several thousand in the next year, and the dream is an exhaustive base — the ‘universal chip’.
“Biologically we respond powerfully to aroma, so if we become familiar with the design of aromatic communication we might be able to say things we couldn’t before”, says Edwards. He sees the limited aromas of the oPhone as the first letters of a rich new language, that may be used as a basis for novels and symphonies. The faith is grounded on the acknowledged influence of smell on the subconscious, and the potential to learn its secrets.
The first oPhones will be limited to a select community of coffee enthusiasts. But the launch on July 10 will be accompanied by a more inclusive product: the first olfactory social network.
Our motto is ‘aroma tells a thousand pictures’. – Dr. David Edwards
A free app will allow anyone to compose and send a smell note by text or email, based on a set menu of aromas and variations. The message can be received by any normal phone as a text. The recipient can then download the composition from hotspots which will be set up in the launch city of Boston.
“We’re expecting an interest in self-expression and we’re ready to learn with the public”, says Edwards. “We would like to be reactive as new ideas for aromatic vocabularies arise, and to continue providing them for new interests.”
He is betting the public around Boston’s famous technology centers are early adopters, and will take the concept forward. Beyond the city, the network will include a public interface for people to trade tips and recipes, and store them in cloud software. Edwards plans to feature ‘smell emoticons’ and viral stunts, and may offer a mixing deck that allows overlap with music production software.
The concept can benefit from saturation of the current communication market, says trend analyst and editor of ‘Green Futures’ Anna Simpson. “We’re reaching a limit with what we can do with text data, and there is the potential to connect more deeply and personally through smell.”
Simpson also believes a consumer shift toward experience could drive adoption. “There is growing interest from brands in resources for creating richer experiences.
Giants such as Olympus are publishing research, but for now start-ups are taking the initiative. Singapore’s Mixed Reality Lab has been prolific in this space, engineering Japanese device Scentee that allows users to send a single fragrance between them. The company released an app worldwide in February, and has lucrative partnerships such as with Mugaritz restaurant in Spain, that allows for online cooking tutorials with leading chefs to give students a whiff of the smell they are aiming for.
We’re reaching a limit with what we can do with text data, and there is the potential to connect more deeply and personally through smell. – Anna Simpson
“Right now it’s the equivalent of music before mp3s, when you had to record a song on a tape and physically give it someone”, says Dr. Adrian Cheok, founder of the Mixed Reality Lab and professor of pervasive technology at City University, London. “We can send a basic scent through a device like Scentee, but we need the framework to make millions of them available through digitization.”
Cheok is testing a device that would connect us directly to the Internet, inspired by the successful connection of optical fibres to neurons of mice. His lab experiments involve subjects wearing a mouthguard-like device containing magnetic coils, from which electric signals are directed into the olfactory bowl to simulate the effect of smell. The wearer’s brains are scanned before and after to pinpoint the effect, and the results have encouraged Cheok enough to believe a prototype could be available in two years.
A similar technique has already born fruit with a similar design simulating the effects of taste. But taste has just four primary forms — bitter, sweet, salty, sour– whereas smell involves identifying individual molecules with no primary form.
“The most basic smell still has hundreds of molecules and you need analytical chemistry to see what’s there”, says Dr. Joel Mainland of the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “Perhaps only 5% would have an impact on smell, so it’s difficult to pick them out. It’s more trial and error than quantitative science.”
Monell are also pursuing the goal of digitizing olfaction, with healthcare applications high on the agenda. One of their research areas is seeking smell biomarkers in cancer patients, using an ‘e-nose’ to hunt chemicals in the blood to deliver early diagnosis. The process was inspired by the ability of dogs to sense sickness, although their smelling ability is multiples higher.
Although this research is still young in the lab, similar technology is already being smartphone-enabled. A NASA-developed chemical sensor has been released to a commercial partner as the basis for mobile applications that could breath-test users. UK Nanotechnology company Owlstone are raising several million dollars in venture capital for a handheld sensor that that could detect a wider range of diseases.
Medical uses are high on the agenda for the burgeoning Digital Olfaction Society, whose upcoming conference will discuss olfaction technology for identifying dangerous gases, guidance for the blind and cognitive aid for Alzheimer’s sufferers. But industries as varied as military, travel, jewellery, food and entertainment will also be represented.
Dr. Cheok believes the ultimate direction of goal is a multi-sensory device unifying all five senses to create an immersive virtual reality, and could be usable within five years. The neglected senses are making up for lost time.
Award-winning chef Andoni Luis Aduriz is developing an app to bring the full sensory experience of his cooking to smartphones.
The app allows the user to virtually recreate one of his signature dishes which can then be smelt through the use of a device which plugs into the phone. BBC Click’s Lara Lewington reports. Watch more clips on the Click website. If you are in the UK you can watch the whole programme on BBC iPlayer.
Managing Director Tan Sri Dato’ Azman bin Hj Mokhtar of the Government of Malaysia’s strategic investment fund, the Khazanah Nasional Berhad, is impressed with City talent in the heart of London’s Silicon Roundabout.
A delegation from the Government of Malaysia’s strategic investment fund, the Khazanah National Berhad, visited the Hangout on January 30th.
Located at the epicentre of London’s Tech City, the Hangout provides a unique working environment and incubation space for City University London academics, students and start-ups to foster relationships with investors in the area in order to get their businesses off the ground.
Khazanah Nasional Berhad promotes economic growth and makes strategic investments on behalf of the Government of Malaysia and is keenly interested in partnering with technology companies and products originating at City. With an investment portfolio comprising over 50 major companies in Malaysia and abroad worth £30bn, Khazanah is involved in a broad spectrum of industries.
Led by managing director Tan Sri Dato’ Azman bin Hj Mokhtar, the Malaysian delegation listened attentively to a variety of presentations and investment opportunities. The Khazanah managing director was impressed with the “high level of creativity” being nurtured at City.
These included a presentation on taste and smell actuation via mobile phone from Professor of Pervasive Computing, Professor Adrian Cheok and PhD students from his Mixed Reality Lab; BarPassOfficial (for payment and collection of drink orders via smartphone); Mashmachines (a new media player bringing together sound, lighting, and video into a single user interface); Popcord (an innovative lightweight mobile phone charger); TechCityNews (London’s leading tech sector news and analysis resource); Modafirma (a social commerce platform allowing emerging and independent fashion designers to reach and sell directly to a global audience); and AtomicDataLabs (a software and data management company building applications in large datasets).
Also in attendance were Pro Vice Chancellor for Research & Enterprise, Professor John Fothergill; Director of Enterprise, Dr Sue O’Hare; Dean of the School of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences and the School of Informatics, Professor Roger Crouch; Professor of Dependability and Security, Professor Kevin Jones; Manager of the London City Incubator and Hangout founder, Leo Castellanos; and, Andrew Humphries, co-founder of The Bakery.
The New Economy interviews Professor Adrian Cheok of City University London to find out about a new technology that will allow people to taste and smell through their mobile phones
Scientists are coming increasingly closer to developing technology that will allow us to use all our senses on the internet. Professor Adrian Cheok, City University London, explains how mobile phones will soon allow people to taste and smell, what the commercial benefits of this technology might be, and just how much it’s going to cost.
The online world: it’s all about the visual and sound experience, but with three other senses, it can leave us short. Studies have demonstrated that more than half of human communication is non-verbal, so scientists are working on ways to communicate taste, touch, and smell over the internet. I’ve come to the City University London to meet Professor Adrian Cheok, who’s at the forefront of augmented reality, with new technology that will allow you to taste and smell through a mobile phone.
The New Economy: Adrian, this sounds completely unbelievable. Have you really found a way to transmit taste and smells via a mobile device?
Adrian Cheok: Yes, in our laboratory research we’ve been making devices which can connect electrical and digital signals to your tongue, as well as your nose. So for example, for taste we’ve created a device which you put on your tongue, and it has electrodes. What those do is artificially excite your taste receptors. So certain electrical signals will excite the receptors, and that will produce artificial taste sensations in your brain. So you will be able to experience, for example, salty, sweet, sour, bitter – the basic tastes on your tongue – without any chemicals.
It’s a device that you can attach to your mobile phone, and these devices will emit chemicals
And with smell we’re going in a couple of tracks. One is using chemicals, it’s a device that you can attach to your mobile phone, and these devices will emit chemicals. So that means that with apps and software on your phone, you can send someone a smell message. For example, you might get a message on Facebook, and it can send the smell of a flower. Or if your friend’s not in a very good mood it might be a bitter smell.
So the next stage of that is, we’re making devices which will have electrical and magnetic signals being transmitted to your olfactory bulb, which is behind your nose. It’ll be a device which you put in the back of your mouth, it will have magnetic coils, and similar to the electrical taste actuation, it will excite the olfactory bulb using electrical currents. And then this will produce an artificial smell sensation in your brain.
Already scientists have been able to connect optical fibre to neurons of mice, and that means that we can connect electrical signals to neurons.
With the rate of change, for example with Moore’s Law, you get exponential increase in technology. I think within our lifetimes we’re going to see direct brain interface. So in fact what you will get is essentially, you can connect all these signals directly to your brain, and then you will be able to experience a virtual reality without any of these external devices. But essentially connecting to the neural sensors of your brain. And of course that also connects to the internet. So essentially what we will have is direct internet connection to our brain. And I think that will be something we will see in our lifetime.
The New Economy: So direct brain interface – that sounds kind of dangerous. I mean, could there be any side-effects?
Adrian Cheok: Well we’re still at the very early stages now. So scientists could connect, for example, one optical fibre to the neuron of a mouse. And so what it has shown is that we can actually connect the biological world of brains to the digital world, which is computers.
Of course, this is still at an extremely early stage now. You know, the bio-engineers can connect one single neuron, so, we’re not anywhere near that level where we can actually connect to humans. You would have to deal with a lot of ethical and also privacy, social issues, risk issues.
So essentially what we will have is direct internet connection to our brain
Now if you have a virus on your computer, the worst it can do is cause your computer to crash. But you know, you could imagine a worst case: someone could reprogram your brain. So we’d have to think very carefully.
The New Economy: Well why is it important to offer smell over the internet?
Adrian Cheok: Fundamentally, smell and taste are the only two senses which are directly connected to the limbic system of the brain. And the limbic system of the brain is the part of the brain responsible for emotion and memory. So it is true that smell and taste can directly and subconsciously trigger your emotion, trigger your memory.
Now that we’re in the internet age, where more and more of our communication is through the internet, through the digital world, that we must bring those different senses – touch, taste and smell – to the internet; so that we can have a much more emotional sense of presence.
The New Economy: What will this be used for?
Adrian Cheok: Like all media, people want to recreate the real world. When cinema came out, people were filming, you know, scenes of city streets. To be able to capture that on film was quite amazing. But as the media developed, then it became a new kind of expression. And I believe it will be the same for the taste and smell media. Now that it’s introduced, at first people will just want to recreate smell at a distance. So for example, you want to send someone the smell of flowers, so Valentine’s Day for example, maybe you can’t meet your lover or your friend, but you can send the virtual roses, and the virtual smell of the roses to his or her mobile phone.
At the next stage it will lead to, I think, new kinds of creation. For example, music before; if you wanted to play music, you needed to play with an instrument, like a violin or a guitar. But now the young people can compose music completely digitally. Even there’s applications on your mobile phone, you can compose music with your finger, and it’s really professional. Similarly, that will be for smell and taste. We’ll go beyond just recreating the real world to making new kinds of creation.
The New Economy: So will it also have a commercial use?
Adrian Cheok: For advertising, because smell is a way to trigger emotions and memory subconsciously. Now, you can shut your eyes, and you can block your ears, but it’s very rare that you ever block your nose, because you can’t breathe properly! So people don’t block their nose, and that means advertising can always be channelled to your nose. And also we can directly trigger memory or an emotion. That’s very powerful.
You want to send someone the smell of flowers, so Valentine’s Day for example, maybe you can’t meet your lover or your friend, but you can send the virtual roses
We received interest from one of the major food manufacturers, and we’re having a meeting again soon. They make frozen food, and the difficulty to sell frozen food is, you can’t smell it. You just see these boxes in the freezer, but because it’s frozen, there’s no smell. But they want to have our devices so that when you pick up the frozen food maybe it’s like a lasagne, well you can have a really nice smell of what it would be.
The New Economy: How expensive will this be?
Adrian Cheok: We’re aiming to make devices which are going to be cheap. Because I think only by being very cheap can you make mass-market devices. So our current device, actually to manufacturer it, it’s only a few dollars.