- The Washington Times - Monday, May 29, 2000

The race is on to stink up the Internet. In their zeal to further enhance our computer experiences, a quartet of companies claim they have the means to bring an odor to an image.

They call it scent-enabled software, smell-and-shop, scent-stream technology among other things.

Aromatic electronic greeting cards, games, recipes, perfume and candy samples these are just a few of the notions that these high-techies hope to peddle to the public nose and imagination.

California-based DigiScents, TriSenx in Georgia, Texas-based AromaJet and SenseIt Technologies in Israel want to tap into our lucrative smell-happy culture.

Americans alone spend $5 billion a year on perfume and $2 billion on scented candles not to mention what we shell out for deodorizers.

So why not perfume computers?

DigiScents hopes folks will register personal scents on line, and share "scent tracks from their favorite movies and music." AromaJet, meanwhile, thinks we're ready for "scent kiosks" in malls that deliver a jolt of customized smell on cue.

Each of the companies is using, more or less, the same technology.

Specific scents are sniffed by an "electronic nose," an exacting device that snorts up fragrance molecules and analyzes them with a gas chromatograph to reveal the chemical composition.

The scent's composition is then assigned a signature numerical code, which is relayed to a computer equipped with a basic scent "palette." The scent is mixed according to code; the palette operates like a color inkjet printer cartridge, which can mix most any color from four basic hues.

"Imagine sending a scented greeting card or virtual box of chocolates," said Joel Bellenson, who founded DigiScents with a partner in Oakland last year. Their version of the technology is called ISmell.

"Digital scent will radically transform the on-line shopping experience, making it easy and fun to try flavors and combinations you've never smelled before," Mr. Bellenson said.

Already, the company has sold the idea to more than 200 game developers who want to stink up the gaming experience for their users. DigiScents has also signed an agreement with Procter & Gamble Co. and on-line retailer ECandy to scent their respective Web sites with appropriate aromas.

"Adding scent to the ECandy site will create the nostalgia and fun of a real candy store," insisted founder Rani Aliahmad.

But is there really a smell kit ready to go? Well, yes or no.

According to DigiScents spokesman Brian Nelson, the company is still in "product development," but is in the process of "rolling out kits now for the game makers."

The actual scent synthesizer the little cartridge that gets stuck inside the computer is not ready.

"Maybe really late in the year, or next year," Mr. Nelson said Friday.

Though they have only prototypes and big ideas, the other three companies are aggressively marketing their products as well.

"What will fear and happiness smell like?" ask the folks at AromaJet, which hopes to sell its "Pinoke" aroma-generation device as computer hardware, in a hand-held device or even as a wearable.

At TriSenx, the development of "sensual" machines and software has been going on for three years, designed "to bring the Internet to its senses."

"I see the sense of smell coming in from various applications starting from e-commerce," said Eli Fisch, a former Israeli air force systems analyst who joined forces with Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science to found SenseIt Technologies last year.

Mr. Fisch envisions applications for home computers, of course, along with game consoles, television and even cellular phones.

"At the end of this year the first product for the mass market will come out," he added. "People will just plug in, play it in their computer and smell all the games and the action."

University academics have seriously flirted with computer-delivered aroma for five years, ever since two researchers published a paper titled "Comments on the Use of Olfactory Displays for Virtual Environments" back in 1995.

A year later, two cyber-hoaxers claimed they had the technology on an intricate Web site devoted to fictional "RealAroma," which promised a "no-residue" formula. There was a media flurry and some hoopla before people discovered the site was pushing such fragrances as "baby sweat," "bus exhaust" and "ballet slipper."

DigiScents is determined to keep things on an even keel.

"Our goal is to establish a pure scent standard, so that when they offer the smell of a banana, they're offering, well, the smell of a banana," said Mr. Nelson. "We want to make sure this gets done right."

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