Wednesday, January 17, 2007


One of the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons puts an elderly Bugs and Elmer far into the future. In the background, one hears the news bulletin that 'Smell-o-vision replaces television" -- this was one of my childhood friends' favorite gags.

One of my favorite bits of irrational exuberance during the Internet bubble was a company (whose name escaped me -- but not Google -- see this article) called Digiscents which was promising to build a box which would attach to your computer and generate smells. The pitch was that perfume websites could give samples, restaurant sites would tempt you with their aromas, etc. No mention of what would happen if you went to a site focused on skunks or house training your dog -- though the article Google dug up did mention that game designers were inquiring about rotting flesh smells.

What I relished about this company was that they were simultaneously dipping into two pools of irrational exuberance -- not only was it a crazy dotcom, but it was a crazy biotech as well! They were hiring basic biologists & bioinformaticists to try and do basic research on human olfaction! I suppose the pitch was that by understanding the sense of smell they could build a box which could use a small number of odorants to generate a large number of aromatic sensations, but to me this underlined how far ahead they were of the science.

Further Googling picked up all sorts of stories. It would seem that the choice of product names was about as clearly thought out as the business plan: iSmell.

What triggered this walk down memory lane? While it isn't as versatile as that box, from Japan (which seems to be the testing ground of every cell phone fad) comes a cell phone that can emit smells. As if I didn't already have enough trouble with my phone just ringing at the wrong time!

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