Internet of Smells: Giving a Machine the Job of Sniffing Out Spoiled Food

Has the food in your pantry turned? Sometimes it’s the sickening smell of rot that tells you there’s something amiss. But is there a way to catch this before it makes life unpleasant? If only there were machines that could smell spoiled food before it stinks up the whole place.

In early May, I was lucky enough to attend the fourth FabLab Asia Network Conference (Fan4). The theme of their event this year was ‘Co-Create a Better World’. One of the major features of the conference was that there were a number of projects featured, often from rural areas, that were requesting assistance throughout the course of the conference.

Overall there were many bright people tackling difficult problems with limited resources. This is how I met [Yogesh Kulkarni] who runs a FabLab in Pabal, a farming community not far from Pune, India. [Yogesh] has also appeared on TED Talks (video here). He explained to me that in his area, vendors sell milk-based desserts. These are not exactly refrigerated, and sometimes people become ill from eating them. It would be nice if there was a way for the vendors to avoid selling the occasional harmful product.

I’ve had similar concerns with food safety in my area (Vietnam), and while it has been fine nearly all of the time, a few years ago I nearly died from a preventable food-borne illness. I had sufficient motivation to do a little research.

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Your VR Doesn’t Stink (Yet)

What does it smell like when the wheels heat up on that Formula 1 car you drive at night and on the weekends? You have no idea because the Virtual Reality experience that lets you do so doesn’t come with a nasal component. Yet.

Shown here is an olfactory device that works with Oculus Rift and other head-mounted displays. The proof of concept is hte work of [Kazuki Hashimoto], [Yosuke Maruno], and [Takamichi Nakamoto] and was shown of at last year’s IEEE VR conference. It lets the wearer smell the oranges when approaching a tree in a virtual environment. In other words, it makes your immersive experience smelly.

As it stands this a pretty cool little device which atomizes odor droplets while a tiny fan wafts them to the wearer’s nose. There is a paper which presumably has more detail but it’s behind a pay wall so for now check out the brief demo video below. Traditionally an issue with scent systems is the substance stuck in the lines, which this prototype overcomes with direct application from the reservoir. Yet to be solved is the availability for numerous different scents.

This build came to our attention via an UploadVR article that does a good job of covering some of the scent-based experiments over the years. They see some of the same hurdles we do: odors linger and there is a limited palette that can be produced. We assume the massive revenue of the gaming industry is going to drive research in this field, but we won’t be lining up to smell gunpowder and dead bodies (or rotting zombies) anytime soon.

The more noble effort is in VR applications like taking the elderly and immobile back for another tour of places they’ll never again be able to visit in their lives. Adding the sense of smell, which has the power to unlock so many memories, makes that use case so much more powerful. We think that’s something everyone can be hopeful about!

Continue reading “Your VR Doesn’t Stink (Yet)”