A new device capable of transmitting smell signals through smartphones could soon make communicating with odours as easy as sending a text message.
Developed by students at Harvard University under the direction of researchers at Paris-based facility Le Laboratoire, the Ophone aims to expand digital communications beyond just sight and sound.
"The Ophone will permit us to send olfactory messages instantaneously and around the world," Le Laboratoire states in its project outline. "These messages, like the text and sound messages we share every day, can be transmitted in crisp olfactory letters -- A B C D -- precisely in space and in time."
The technology works by utilising a small cartridge that attaches to a smartphone, capable of producing a wide range of odours. Users can then send the smell that they want the cartridge to produce by using the corresponding app, oTracks.
"The Olfactive Project is a collaboration between artists, designers, scientists and performers built on an old dream of a universal language," said David Edwards, founder of Le Laboratoire.
"The idea was not just to reproduce an existing way of communicating, but to create a new language.
"We wanted to find a way of diffusing smells accurately and coupling those smells with images. It was these two ideas that formed the basis for the Ophone.
"The device therefore not only makes it possible to accurately receive and share smells but also pair them with images on the screen of an Android device."
The developers of the device believe that eventually the device would be able to transmit up to ten thousand smells. They also hope that in the future the Ophone will be able to also capture odours, creating a new form of communication "just like pictures or music".