Japanese Scientists Develop Odor Replicator

People stopping to smell the roses can now take that sweet floral fragrance home with them, or even send it to a faraway grandmother, thanks to a new gadget in Japan that records and replicates the world's odors.

The new device, developed by scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, analyzes smells through 15 sensors, records the odor's recipe in digital format and then reproduces the scent by mixing 96 chemicals and vaporizing the result.

Creator Takamichi Nakamoto says the technology will have applications in food and fragrance industries where companies want to replicate odors.

But it could also be a boon for the digital world, allowing smells can be recorded in one place — by sensors in a mobile phone, for instance — and transmitted to appreciative noses halfway around the world.

It could also aid online shoppers by letting people check out perfumes or flowers before they buy.

"The sensitivity of the human nose is very good," Nakamoto said. "But to some extent we can replicate the performance."

Nakamoto says his machine, in the works since 1999, is the most advance of its kind in the world, though a similar project is also underway at Keio University, also in Japan.

But so far, the machine is too big to be portable — it measures about the 1 meter by 3 feet by 2 feet.

Still, the breakthrough follows on the heels of a Japanese smell-o-vision project that synchronized smells to movie scenes.

That odorous endeavor was undertaken by NTT Communications Corp. and emitted smells from under seats in two movie theaters to accompany parts of the film "The New World," a Hollywood adventure film.

Nakamoto's smell recorder has successfully recreated a range of fruit smells, including oranges, apples, bananas and lemons, but can be reprogrammed to produce almost any odor — from old fish to gasoline, he said.

Making the 15 sensor chips, which pick up aromas and convert them to a digital formula, was the hardest part, Nakamoto added.

But the unit's large size is also limitation because the 96 odor-forming chemicals are contained in separate glass bottles.

A more compact version, which includes only the sensors, can record smells but must be hooked up to the blender to regenerate them.

"We also want extend the range of smells, and then we can think about commercializing the system," Nakamoto said.

Nakamoto's team of 12 scientists have been collaborating with a Japanese perfume company that produces the raw ingredients for fragrances and with electronics companies interested in the sensor chip technology.