Keith Kelsen’s Scent Narrative: Scent and Science Fiction

Scent and science have combined; the science fiction of yesterday is now science fact.  Scent is the next big thing in both Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).   These “reality shifters” become even more real when emphasized with Scent.  In both VR and AR, immersion is key to the effect. Scent adds a new dimension in VR gaming when used as a reward or accentuating environmental surroundings. We have long advocated that Scent impacts our memory and our reality.

Now, products are coming out that seem like science fiction! A strong visual experience combined with the right Scent can immerse you in an experience like nothing else. Scent produces the memories from the fresh smell of fresh cut grass, the musky smell of a forest, or the excitement of the beach.

A 70-year old Vision from the Illustrated Man is becoming a Reality.

Scent can take us places in our memory and those memories can make a pretend experience real.  This originally “science fiction” conversion to “science fact’ has tremendous possibilities.  In an early Scent Narrative, we discussed the future of Scent Media.  Almost 70 years ago in 1951, renown American science fiction author, Ray Bradbury, wrote a collection of eighteen science fiction short stories called The Illustrated Man, with many futuristic visions, including Scent.

Odorophonic an imagined device that is now becoming real.

In it, he describes a children’s nursery as transforming into the African Serengeti, as technology replaces parents as storytellers. The book, a staple of Baby Boomers, has a recurring theme throughout; the conflict between the cold mechanics of technology and the psychology of people. In it, dreams are carried aloft in junkyard rockets. All of this is happening today, with Titans like Musk, Bezos, and Branson all designing their own spacecraft. The science fiction technology of our past is now a part of our every waking moment. Bradbury brings technology to life conflicting with the most primal human natural instincts. In the provocative story, the Scent technology profiled is called odorophonic.   This odorophonic experience completed the feeling of the immersive environment:

“The nursery was silent. It was empty as a jungle glade at hot high noon. The walls were blank and two dimensional. Now, as George and Lydia Hadley stood in the center of the room, the walls began to purr and recede into crystalline distance, it seemed, and presently an African veldt appeared, in three dimensions, on all sides, in color reproduced to the final pebble and bit of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with a hot yellow sun. George Hadley felt the perspiration start on his brow.

“Let’s get out of this sun,” he said. “This is a little too real. But I don’t see anything wrong.”

“Wait a moment, you’ll see,” said his wife…

Now the hidden odorophonics were beginning to blow a wind of odor at the two people in the middle of the baked veldt land. The hot straw smell of lion grass, the cool green smell of the hidden water hole, the great rusty smell of animals, the smell of dust like a red paprika in the hot air.”

Ray Bradbury The Illustrated Man


“Odorophonics” added the missing element to the reality of the experience. A generation grew up with this concept of a “reality” as the “holodeck”, a fictional plot device from television’s Star Trek. It’s presented as a staging environment in which participants may engage with different virtual reality environments that feel and smell.

The Holodeck becomes real.

This week, Nvidia has unveiled its new Holodeck photorealistic VR platform for designers and developers.  The Nvidia Holodeck in an “intelligent virtual reality platform” (it is really named the “holodeck” ) created for collaborative virtual environments with simulated real-world physics, highly detailed models built using photorealistic graphics at a life-size scale.  This environment is the ideal place to create more immersive environments, Scent can be added as new Scent technologies are available now.

Speeding to market with new environments.

Nvidia’s Holodeck is aimed at helping designers prototype, review and tweak designs to bring products to market faster. Game designers can use it to create new environments. The Holodeck is also AI-ready, to build real-world conditions.  Now, they can anticipate actions and reactions deploying avatars in the virtual space.  They can test their designs against virtual operators. Nvidia’s Holodeck has been acknowledged as a game changer by top architects, NASA engineers, and cutting-edge designers.

Collaborative VR design tools are catching on in a big way among automakers, who are trying to catch up with the speed of development in cellular phones.  Now, they can build out initial trials quickly in vehicle design. As we have noted in earlier Scent Narratives, automotive is the next big area for Scent and the Holodeck could speed development.

Scent as a “Wake Up Call”.

Scent is offering a “Wake Up Call”, literally.  The idea of being able to reproduce a wide variety of odors (or scents) with a machine as a part of the experience was once just imagined. Forty years ago, science fiction author, Frank Herbert, described waking up in the morning by a scent-producing alarm clock from The Dosadi Experiment,

“The odalarm awoke Jorj X. McKie with a whiff of lemon. For just an instant his mind played tricks on him. He thought he was on Tutalsee’s gentle planetary ocean floating softly on his garlanded island. There were lemons on his floating island, banks of Hibiscus and carpets of spicy Alyssum. His bowered cottage lay in the path of perfumed breezes…”

The Odalarm exists.

Today for about $100, you can have an alarm clock that uses Scent with a “timed release of an aroma of your choice”The device functions like a programmable coffee maker, using reusable scent capsules. Each capsule lasts for “30 awakenings” before you need to replace it. Aromas are bundled in packs ranging from ”Espresso” to “Croissant” even chocolate. Claiming internal testing shows this scent-based alarm wakes 99% of people in 2 minutes.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work: Not all scent claims are scientifically accurate.

In this case, Science does not support Science Fiction. Scents will not rouse us from sleep, according to Brown University.  Researchers studied 6 participants in their early 20s and the effects of 2 Scents: pleasurable Peppermint and offensive Pyridine (Pyridine is a common byproduct of fire).  The findings indicated that sleep is, in fact, a period when senses are limited.  In fact, there’s a significant alteration of perceptual processing as a very function of sleep.

People cannot rely on their sense of smell to awaken them to the danger of fire.  The 2004 Brown University study titled “Minimal Olfactory Perception During Sleep: Why Odor Alarms Will Not Work for Humans”actually pre-dates the alarm clock.

Tested during moderate Stage Two Sleep, deep Stage Four Sleep and the deepest REM (rapid eye movement) Sleep, the results were low. No one responded to peppermint during sleep.    Responses to the noxious Pyridine Scent were infrequent. It also did not wake any participants in the deepest stage of sleep. However, sound woke the participants regardless of the sleep stage. A moderately loud auditory tone produced arousal from sleep virtually every time the scents did not.

Human olfaction appears insufficiently sensitive and reliable to act as a sentinel system,” said Rachel S. Herz, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, and her co-author may have said it best,

“As the saying goes,” said Dr. Mary A. Carskadon, “We ‘wake up and smell the coffee,’ not the other way around.”

As science aligns with fiction, reality shifts and the impossible becomes possible. In the world of Scent, while not all solutions work, science will stretch the boundaries.



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