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Very soon, you will be able to wake up and smell the coffee brewing . . . on the other side of the world. That's the promise of the oPhone, which will allow friends and followers to text or e-mail you aromas to go along with those vacation pictures and wish-you-were-here missives. The technology also may have some less-frivolous applications, notably in healthcare.

Norbert Sparrow

March 24, 2014

3 Min Read
What's that smell coming from your oPhone?

Very soon, you will be able to wake up and smell the coffee brewing . . . on the other side of the world. That's the promise of the oPhone, which will allow friends and followers to text or e-mail you aromas to go along with those vacation pictures and wish-you-were-here missives. The technology also may have some less-frivolous applications, notably in healthcare.

ophone-300.jpgOPhone technology is the brainchild of David Edwards, a biomedical engineer and founder of Le Laboratoire in Paris, a unique initiative where artists and designers are invited to find their inner scientific muse. PlasticsToday spoke with Rachel Field, who helped develop the technology with Edwards and Amy Yin, and is a co-founder of the company.

"We have in-house noses that create the scents by breaking down the aromas into their essential chemicals," says Field. These are stored on so-called Ochips. The oPhone user can compose a scent, not unlike a composer turning a series of notes into music, and send that composition to another user's oPhone device via text message or e-mail.

Still in beta mode, the device's first application took place at Le Laboratoire in Paris in May 2013, when Edwards sent the "world's first olfactive message" to Field and Yin. The video embedded below documents the experiment.

A commercial launch for the oPhone is planned for July 2014. One of the challenges the team encountered in developing the device was finding a material that would preserve the integrity of the experience.

"We performed lots of testing on materials," says Field. "It was important that they not be permeable and absorb the odors. It was very challenging for me and the team. I have to say it's an aspect of engineering I had not considered before," laughs Field.

Field did not disclose the plastic that was ultimately selected.

Initial prototypes were made using a 3D printer. The final resin-based prototypes were made by a shop in Paris, and the device is currently being produced by an injection molder in France.

Potential healthcare applications are being discussed, but that is at a very early stage, says Field. Other researchers, not affiliated with oPhone, are on the scent, however. In particular, the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia is researching an e-nose that could detect olfactory biomarkers in cancer patients. The technology is inspired by the ability of dogs to sense sickness, reports CNN.

As for the evolution of the oPhone, users will play a significant role. "A free app will be available worldwide, but the software and device initially will be rolled out in Boston and Paris," says Field. Not unlike Google Glass, the idea is to put it out there and see what people do with it. "We have some applications, but we don't see ourselves developing all of them. The users will guide us," says Field.

Norbert Sparrow

Norbert Sparrow is Senior Editor at PlasticsToday. Follow him on twitter @norbertcsparrow and Google+.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.

www.linkedin.com/in/norbertsparrow

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