After Harrison left Arizona State University in 2019 to join NewSpace’s business partner planet As Director of Strategic Science Initiatives, the project has continued and carved out a life of its own.
Augmented and Virtual Reality Research Lab at LiKamWA where Lai and Bahremand work, and Al Nayzak StudioHe undertook a lot of supervising work on the engineering side of the project. LiKamWa and Spackman collaborated on the grant proposal paper, which won $850,000 in funding from National Science Foundation to support work. The research led to a prototype of a platform the team developed for testing.
“It is exciting to collaborate across disciplines for this project, combining the emerging expertise in software and hardware engineering for our PhD students with the rich understanding of olfactory systems from Dr. Brian Smith and Dr. Rick Jerkin,” says LiKamWa. “Most importantly, infusing this partnership with Dr. Speakman’s social and cultural lens on how our sense of smell drives our relationships with food, water, education and training has enabled this collaboration to seek a broader application of research.”
Behrmand took the lead in writing an academic paper that I published Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) entitled “Scent Engine: A system for synthesizing synthetic scents in virtual environmentsAbout how the scent engine works.
“I’ve spent several years attending conferences and reviewing the literature on olfactory monitors to understand the program,” Behrmand says. “During this intense period of research, we found the need to design a hardware and software framework capable of computing and delivering olfactory cues while navigating virtual environments.”
This technology uses an olfactory system that transmits odors through a device placed over the user’s nose.
LiKamWa leads the engineering side of the project, overseeing the development of the hardware and software needed to deliver scents to the user, while Spackman takes the lead in developing training materials for future use of the system in educational applications.
One of the challenges for the team is how to mix different chemical compounds to recreate scents from the real world. This is where he plays the role of Lay. Her first test to analyze how well the technology worked was to accurately represent the scent of strawberries at different stages of freshness.
“Smell can evoke and reinforce a range of emotions, and emotions are the basic layer of human thought and action,” says Lai. “Ubiquitous digital scents can benefit people by expanding their digital media toolkit to enhance different emotions and their awareness of what is real.”
While accurately representing scent is a key factor, Smith helps keep the project on track with his understanding of scent biology. He points out that the real environment has many factors that an odor driver would need to replicate, including the disturbance that smells in the environment and how strong the smell is in different areas of the environment.
With the Smell Engine’s goal of accurately replicating scents in a chaotic environment, Smith envisions applications that include educating firefighters about the dangers they need to stay alert and teaching potential space colonists what Mars might smell like.
The ubiquitous digital scent can benefit people by expanding their digital media toolkit to enhance different emotions and their awareness of what is real.
Jessica Lai, PhD student in electrical engineering
Spackman sees another potential educational application of the scent engine: training people to know what the smell of water should resemble. She says some of the main reasons people choose to drink bottled water instead of tap water is that they don’t trust the safety of municipal water systems and don’t like the taste.
Spackman hopes that adding scent to VR will help those working in water management learn about water pollution.
“Teaching the people who are going to be there on the front lines to work with the water all the time so that they can accelerate more quickly, that could have a huge impact,” Spacman says.
Besides educational applications, the team envisions a world of possibilities for applying sniffer in virtual reality, such as gaming and virtual reality movie experiences.