Picture that you are heading out to a fancy Italian restaurant your family. Being that you haven’t eaten in a long time, you’re really looking forward to the garlic bread that your waiter will put on the table before your meal. When it finally arrives, your friend sends you a text message that asks you what you’re doing, so you send him a picture of the bread as well as the distinct smell of garlic that comes with it.
Believe it or not, the technology to send smells now exists, making this tale seem less like science fiction. Smell communication is the primary function of the upcoming oPhone, a device that is set for a beta launch this July.
“Imagine a less stressful, more sensual, incredibly inclusive world of global communications where a moving gesture of friendship, a culinary pleasure, a childhood memory are all just a touch away,” reads the oPhone’s website. “This is the world we hope to create with the oPhone.”
An oPhone receives instructions from its very own smartphone app, in which users can choose between 356 different smell combinations to send to others. By next year, this number is expected to reach into the thousands, and the device’s ultimate goal is to expand until it has a comprehensive, universal chip.
Once a smell is chosen, it is then sent to the oPhone and activated through the device’s Ochips, which are kept inside individual containers. The containers are heated to create the smell once it is chosen, but they eventually cool down to stay potent.
“Our motto is ‘aroma tells a thousand pictures,'” Dr. David Edwards, biomedical engineer at Harvard and creator of the oPhone, told CNN. “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.”
Currently, the oPhone isn’t ready for mass production, but it will be available to select coffee enthusiasts in Boston on July 10. Edwards says that he is betting that the initial testers will help take the concept forward.
“We’re expecting an interest in self-expression and we’re ready to learn with the public,” Edwards told CNN. “We would like to be reactive as new ideas for aromatic vocabularies arise and to continue providing them for new interests.”
If the oPhone gains traction in Boston, they could be in stores in the near future. Anna Simpson, trend analyst and editor of Green Futures, believes that there is a good chance that this technology will catch on.
“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 told CNN. “There is growing interest from brands in resources for creating richer experiences.”