Must-Read Reports

Part 2: Digital transmission of scents

I wish that I can smell my first leather shoes

In an emerging area of olfactory research, scents are digitally transmitted via computer code that can be sent online  or via smartphone app and reproduced at a kiosk or through scent-emitting device.

Previous attempts to re-create scents have faced challenges because liquid or gaseous odorants often contaminate each other. The Aroma Shooter, developed by a Japanese start-up Aromajoin, (  gets around this problem through the use of solid-state materials that can deliver split-second volleys of over 400 different scents. The technology is being used to create aroma “signage” in major department stores and to improve virtual-reality applications. Another Japanese start-up , Scentee (, has developed the Scentee Machina,  a device that connects to a smartphone app that can diffuse different fragrance according to the user’s mood and the time of day. At All These Worlds (, a VR company based in California, US, researchers have  developed a wireless-enabled scent collar that releases targeted scents for virtual reality simulations.

One area of application is the use of digital scents in mental health testament. Research has shown that our moods are greatly affected by different odors: Lavender can reduce labor pangs in childbirth and promote sleep.; peppermint can improve physical performance ; and orange may help calm our nerves. One study showed how low-cost nasal clips containing lavender odorant could improve the quality of sleep for individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Digital olfaction also opens up the possibility of bringing the past to life the re-creation of long-lost smells. Researchers at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage in London are re-creating and preserving “historical scents” that could otherwise be lost, such as the dusty smells of hundred-years old books.

Digital olfaction also opens up the possibility of completely new smells and products optimized by algorithms to personal tastes and different settings. Combined with other technologies such as VE and haptics, digital olfaction could radically transform the entertainment industry, by bringing us closer to a true multisensory experience in the realms of fashion, retailing, leisure, and tourism. Visitors at a museum could smell the blood of fallen warriors in ancient wars through digital olfaction.

Capturing the potential of digital olfaction

Mark Purdy, Max Klymenko and Mia Purdy have suggested four actions that can help guide business to capture the potential of olfaction.

  • Understand your olfactory value chain

Companies can start by mapping their olfactory value chain to identify the role that olfactory plays across different areas of their business.  A fast-moving consumer goods company, for example, could have thousands of product lines ; scents are an intrinsic part of these products’ appeal to consumers but remain largely unquantified. In some industries, such as  wines or fragrance production, digital olfaction can complement the tacit knowledge of experienced testers or product formulators. Olfactory mapping can trace how a product’s olfactory features vary across the supply chain, over time, and across different locations. Such profiling can improve product development strategies and supply chain optimisation and ultimately garner a stronger competitive advantage through distinct consumer appeal.

  • Prepare for contestable markets

As digital olfaction begins to decode the volatile organic compounds that contribute to our sense of smell, it offers the possibility of reverse engineering many well-kwon or distinctive aromas. Just as digital technologies are lowering entry barriers in many markets and making them “contestable” with new products, we may see something similar with digital olfaction. Copycat versions or products with distinctive or hard-to-replicate aromas–perfumes, fine wines, furniture, ceases, teas, coffee—could proliferate. Companies will need to expend efforts to preserve the intangible capital of their olfactory signature.

  • Consider multiple senses

In real life, our experiences are formed from a range of senses. Digital olfaction will be the most powerful when combined with other sensory technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, haptics, holograms, and emotional AI systems. Sensors and machine learning algorithms will be critical in capturing, decoding and translating olfactory signals.     

  • Anticipate ethical and regulatory hurdles.

Despite the promise of olfactory technology, there are technical, ethical, and regulatory challenges to overcome. A particular concern is the potential for addiction as ever more powerful olfactory triggers are developed; at the other extreme, overexposure could lead to the desensitization of people exposed to powerful scents on a daily basis, just as loud music has caused hearing loss for some in the entertainment industry or hospitality industries. Early engagement with regulators and health authorities will be critical, both to mitigate the risks and promulgate the health-enhancing effects of digital olfaction.


Smell is our most primordial sense, used by our ancestors t find food, sense danger, and detect illnesses. Yet it remains the most complex and least well understood of all senses. The human olfactory receptors were only identified in 1991, earning a Nobel Prize for the scientists , Richard Axel and Linda Buck, who made the discovery. With advances in digital olfaction, we now have the ability to decode and harness the sense of smells in ways never thought possible.

For businesses and innovators, digital olfaction opens up opportunities: new products, services, and consumer experiences; faster and more accurate production processes; low-cost environmental and healthcare solutions, and new ways to reach and engage consumers. There will be challenges too: regulation, responsible use, and new competitors and business models.

One business model that comes to my mind; digital storage of smell in a cloud, similar to the photo archives of Pinterest.

Reference” Mark Purdy, Max Klymenko, and Mia Purdy. Business scents: the rise of digital olfaction. MIT Sloan Management t Review, Summer 2021, Volume 62 (4).