We hear digital audio, we see digital video, and we feel digital haptic feedback. However, we don’t have an analog for the sense of smell. [Kasun] and his team of researchers from the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia are in the midst of changing that reality. Their project aims to transmit fragrances via electronic stimulation. Though it’s really more of a step toward creating a multi-sensory internet.
The team’s “electric smell machine” consists of a variable power supply connected to silver electrodes wrapped around an endoscopic camera. The camera is necessary to ensure contact with the user’s olfactory bulb as electric current pulses through the electrodes. The current values vary based upon the scent being replicated and are in the 0.2mA neighborhood. Early trials of the machine have revealed that around one-quarter of test subjects are able to identify the smells being replicated. They reported smells being fruity, sweet, and woody though all had a chemical-like odor attached.
The concept of “smell-o-vision” is not a new one, as it has been around longer than motion pictures with sound. Previous attempts at accompanying film and television with scent have been a result of chemical reactions. Devices from these types of experiments typically involved cartridges that would need to be replaced when the chemical substances were depleted. [Kasun]’s team approach is to avoid the chemical approach in favor of directly stimulating the olfactory receptors. Those interested in the gritty details can read the research paper on digitizing smell.
[Kasun] and his team uploaded a video on the project that you can view below. It’s all a work in progress at this point, but sign me up for a trial when they pinpoint the true essence of new car smell.
Researchers at MIT have used 3D printing to open the door to low-cost, scalable, and consistent generation of microencapsulated particles, at a fraction of the time and cost usually required. Microencapsulation is the process of encasing particles of one material (a core) within another material (a shell) and has applications in pharmaceuticals, self-healing materials, and dye-based solar cells, among others. But the main problem with the process was that it was that it was slow and didn’t scale, and it was therefore expensive and limited to high-value applications only. With some smart design and stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing, that changed. The researchers are not 3D printing these just because they can; they are printing the arrays because it’s the only way they can be made.
Just in case anyone secretly had the idea that Valve Software’s VR and other hardware somehow sprang fully-formed from a lab, here are some great photos and video of early prototypes, and interviews with the people who made them. Some of the hardware is quite raw-looking, some of it is recognizable, and some are from directions that were explored but went nowhere, but it’s all fascinating.
The accompanying video (embedded below) has some great background and stories about the research process, which began with a mandate to explore the concepts of AR and VR and determine what could be done and what was holding things back.
One good peek into this process is the piece of hardware shown to the left. You look into the lens end like a little telescope. It has a projector that beams an image directly into your eye, and it has camera-based tracking that updates that image extremely quickly.
The result is a device that lets you look through a little window into a completely different world. In the video (2:16) one of the developers says “It really taught us just how important tracking was. No matter [how you moved] it was essentially perfect. It was really the first glimpse we had into what could be achieved if you had very low persistence displays, and very good tracking.” That set the direction for the research that followed.
I spent some time recently at the Fab11 conference, a gathering of the people behind the Fab Labs that are springing up all over the world, where entrepreneurs, hackers and the curious can learn about making things. So, it was no surprise that this was a great place to pick up some tips on designing, building and hacking things. Here are a few of the lessons I picked up at this fascinating gathering of the fabbers.
If you can make something in an hour, you’ll make it better in a day
said [Joris Van Tubergen]. He knows something about making unusual things because he 3D printed a full-sized Elephant. To do this, he worked out how to hack the Ultimaker 2 3D printer to print to an unlimited Z height by flipping the printer upside down and moving the Z motor to lift the printer rather than the print head. With a few tweaks to the software, he could then print full-height elephant slices to speed up the process. He is absolutely right: while it is tempting to endlessly fiddle with a concept on paper, you learn more by building a prototype, even if it doesn’t work.