Startup Selling $2,550 Scent-Emitting Televisions

The Smell-O-Vision dream lives on

cartoon showing people buying tickets for a fictional scent-emitting movie
A Vision of the Future, 1959
Popular Science's November 1959 issue used this illustration for a story about "Scent of Mystery," the world's only Smell-O-Vision movie

Oh, Smell-O-Vision, how thou hast haunted us. Engineers have imagined of moving pictures with smells practically since movies were invented. In principle, it's not too hard to do. In reality, people just don't care about smells as much as they care about image and sound quality. It's been difficult to make a smell-o-vision that's effective and cheap enough that people and companies would bother to buy it. But the dream lives on: Last week, Tech in Asia reported on a South Korean startup that's working on smell projection to accompany video.

The Aromajoin system includes an emitter that works with cartridges, a bit like the ink cartridges in home printers, that contain solid hunks of packed smell molecules. The cartridges are supposed to provide three-second bursts of smell and last for 45,000 uses. To sync those smells with video, Aromajoin emitters come with software that lets video editors drop in smells the way they would drop in parts of a soundtrack. So far, Aromajoin has sold 30 of its device packages at a cost of $2,550 each, Tech in Asia reports. One customer was a small museum, run by a Tokyo chemical company, that showcases Japan's "culture of cleanliness."

Tech in Asia saw a demonstration of an Aromajoin unit. Reporter J. T. Quigley writes that the cartridges smelled "never overpowering" and transitioned quickly between scents, a technical feat. That said, it seems Quigley watched a perfume ad. If the ad's "fruit" and "herb" odors overlapped, that doesn't seem to be too much of a problem. It would be more difficult to show a turkey dinner and a rose bouquet in succession.

We looked for other contemporary competitors to Aromajoin and found few. Of course, there are amusement park rides with smells and other sensations. There's also this app called oNotes, but you have to go to one of two locations to experience the smells. Last year, engineering students from Tokyo University made an impressive-sounding prototype smelling screen; surely they were not the first in modern times. Perhaps this means the coast is clear for Aromajoin?