29 September 2022

Tech Perspective #40: The Great Return of Smell-O-Vision


For years, the smell was considered the least important of all the senses. Actually, a 2018 study of millennial Brits found that 64% would rather sacrifice their sense of smell than their phone. Crazy, right?  

However, the underestimation of smell has significantly declined since the beginning of the pandemic. Experiencing smell loss as one of the symptoms of COVID-19, people gained a new sense of appreciation for their smell receptors. Cured from the disease, they started to cherish ordinary scents, their psychological impact, as well as a strong connection between smell and taste.  

This understanding and a new appreciation for the sense of smell have sparked the debate on the importance of integrating multisensory technology into everyday use. However, it was not the first time...  

The History of Smell-O-Vision  

In the history of incorporating different senses to create a multisensory experience, smell proved to be the most elusive and difficult to replicate. However, it didn’t stop people from trying to use it to support entertainment, with the most known attempt being the creation of Smell-O-Vision.  

Smell-O-Vision was a system that released scents during the film projection so that the audience could "smell" what was happening on the screen. This technique was created by Hans Laube and made its only appearance in the 1960 film Scent of Mystery. Injecting 30 odours into a movie theatre's seats, triggered by the soundtrack, was supposed to create a more immersive experience.  

Unfortunately, Smell-O-Vision did not work as intended: aromas were released with a distracting hissing noise and many viewers on the balcony complained that the scents reached them several seconds after the "source of smell" was shown on the screen.   

There have been several attempts to incorporate odour experiences, such as “AromaRama” from 1959, or “Odorama” from 1982, but all of them failed to impress the audience.  

Smell-O-Vision Now  

No longer a novelty, smell-o-vision became a real, viable technology and we’re soon to start seeing more and more of it. Entertainment seems like an obvious choice, but did you know that it can also be used for training and therapy?   

OVR Technology — which stands for Olfactory Virtual Reality Technology — is a company that understands the importance of scent in a truly immersive VR experience. They have developed a complimentary device- the ION- that goes over the nose to allow its users to sense different smells.  

The ION device is currently used for training purposes for first responders, such as firefighters. It is used to help firefighters recognise different odours to assess the degree of danger. Training in completely safe conditions, firefighters learn to identify odours such as smoke, different chemicals and gases to make better decisions under real threats.  

For therapy purposes, OVR Technology is cooperating with Bravemind. Bravemind helps combat veterans recover from post-traumatic stress (PTS) using virtual reality therapy. Bravemind uses exposure therapy in safe, controlled settings and presents their patients with relatable scenarios vets may have encountered, making them more immersive with the use of a VR headset and ION device.  

As you can see, the sense of smell has incredible power, and we are yet to learn more about its practical use. As Aaron Wisniewski, the CEO of OVR says, “It’s critical that scent be [part of] metaverse development . . . or we’re completely limiting the potential. Smell has this profound effect over who we are, how we feel, what we do, what we buy, who we love.”  

The Future of Smell-O-Vision  

Learning the importance of smell the hard way has taught us to appreciate and develop the opportunities given by this sense. And that’s exactly why we can expect more developments in this area. In 2023, we might witness the introduction of smell-o-vision technology on a larger scale. TV sets, cars, smartphones, you name it, are likely to incorporate this technology.  

Are you interested in the topic of smell-o-vision? Don’t worry, I'll let you know when some next smell-o-vision breakthrough happens! 

Find more interesting articles

Marcin Bartoszuk
Chief Operating Officer

With Microsoft technologies related since 2005. He graduated from the Computer Science Faculty of the Bialystok University of Technology where he was the leader of the .NET Group and the Microsoft Student Partner. Four times finalist of the national stage of the Imagine Cup competition, and later the mentor and the jury member of the contest. Co-founder of the Bialystok .NET Group. He lectured .NET development at the Bialystok University of Technology. Microsoft MVP in the Client Application Development category in 2008-2010, when he actively participated in the IT community. Constant new technology enthusiast and IT consultant.