Remember Google Nose? It was one of several April Fool’s jokes the company came up with last year, pretending we could search for a specific scent and then smell it via smartphone. Ha, good Google. Except Google Nose isn’t a joke anymore. It’s called oPhone, it’s real and you’ll be able to buy it before the end of the year.
However, oPhone is not made by Google. Instead, it comes from the team of scientists, artists and generally crazy people who make up the Olfactive Project, along with the art and design center Le Laboratoire in Paris and a team of students from Harvard University. It’s not just a cool, albeit slightly bizarre, technological experiment. There is a real spirit behind oPhone.
Apparently, sending scents to each other could be a better way to convey emotions than simply using words, as it removes barriers such as language and culture. The oPhone website talks about “global communication” and a world where scents are a “touching gesture of friendship”. It’s a bit hippy-dippy, but few people would misinterpret the overall meaning behind the scent of roses, no matter what language they speak.
Now, while the name suggests we’ll see a phone, the idea is misleading. It is a device that connects to the phone. Smells are created by the oPhone add-on after you select it and send it from your smartphone, like a smelly wordless text message. Beautiful. The oPhone project has been going on for some time, and has been demonstrated several times over the past year. In the video below, you can see how the aroma of espresso coffee spreads from room to room.
Early testers noted that the scent produced by the oPhone is very personal, not a cloud of scent like those automatic bathroom air fresheners. It is also possible to combine scents from the recipe and create complex, multi-layered messages that only the recipient’s nose can understand. Because the oPhone is an accessory, it can be connected to other devices such as your computer or music system, allowing songs and even web pages to be accompanied with a special touch.
Next month, oPhone reaches the second stage in its development. This will be shown at the opening of Le Laboratoire’s American spinoff called The Lab Cambridge in Boston. We spoke to David Edwards, creator of the oPhone and founder of Le Laboratoire, via email about his plans for the event at The Laboratory Cambridge. The opening of the exhibition will host the launch of the oPhone app and accompanying website, along with a new version of the oPhone itself, called oPhone Duo. It is described as “a pre-commercial form of the first commercially available oPhone.” If all goes well, the commercial oPhone should be ready for use during the last three months of 2014.
The OPhone Duo will be demonstrated by taking visitors on a walk through Paris, experienced exclusively through scents. Also, the team will once again use the aroma of coffee – apparently the most universally recognized smell in the world – and give people the opportunity to “communicate aromatically and experience coffee in new sensory ways”.
Back to the app, we’re promised it’ll be fun even without owning an oPhone, and if you’re near The Laboratory Cambridge at any time, messages sent using the app can be downloaded at a dedicated terminal inside the ArtScience Cafe to experience what they smell like.
oPhone is fascinating, technically creative, futuristic and more than a little crazy. We think it sounds great and look forward to sending the cozy delights to our friends in the very near future.