Today’s television programs are designed to trigger your emotions and your mind through your senses of sound and sight.
But what if they could trigger a few more? What if you could smell or taste the cheesy slices of pizza being eaten by your favorite characters on TV? Is it possible? Would audiences enjoy the experience? Would advertisers jump on the opportunity to reach consumers in a new way?
These questions formed the basis of a two year experiment by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, conducted in collaboration with Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Korea. In a proof of concept paper published this month in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the researchers demonstrate that it is possible to generate odor, at will, in a compact device small enough to fit on the back of your TV with potentially thousands of odors.
“For example, if people are eating pizza, the viewer smells pizza coming from a TV or cell phone,” said Sungho Jin, professor in the departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and NanoEngineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. “And if a beautiful lady walks by, they smell perfume. Instantaneously generated fragrances or odors would match the scene shown on a TV or cell phone, and that’s the idea.”
Jin and his team of graduate students used an X-Y matrix system in order to minimize the amount of circuitry that would be required to produce a compact device that could generate any odor at any time. The scent comes from an aqueous solution such as ammonia, which forms an odorous gas when heated through a thin metal wire by an electrical current. The solution is kept in a compartment made of non-toxic, non-flammable silicone elastomer. As the heat and odor pressure build, a tiny compressed hole in the elastomer is opened, releasing the odor.
Whether TV and cell phone audiences and advertisers will respond to such idea are questions for another phase of the study. For now, the question was simply whether it’s possible.
“It is quite doable,” said Jin, who is also a world renowned researcher in materials science.