Where's that funny smell coming from?
IT COULD be the next big thing in in-store marketing- or a gross invasion of nasal privacy. As customers walk round a store, they could be tracked by a device that bombards them with an enticing aroma aimed directly at their nose. The device, called an air cannon, is so accurate that it can target a single individual, while leaving the person next to them unaffected. The air cannon was developed by Yasuyuki Yanagi and his colleagues at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Kyoto, Japan, as a technique for directing evocative smells to people exploring virtual-reality environments. The driver of a car simulator, for example, might sniff petrol as they drive into a filling station or freshly cut grass as they pass a sports field. But marketing specialists could seize on the air cannon as a way of tempting shoppers by wafting the scent of the latest perfume or an expensive blend of coffee in their direction- perhaps in conjunction with in-store video adverts. Or high street poster sites could fire ad-related odours at you as you wander past. The main components of the air cannon are a chamber with a fine nozzle at one end and a flexible diaphragm at the other, plus a jet that delivers a variety of smelly vapours into the chamber. When the cannon is fired, a coil like the driver coil of a loudspeaker pushes the diaphragm forward to compress air inside the chamber, forcing a fine jet of aroma-rich air in the required direction. The device tracks the person it is aiming at with a camera mounted on top, which follows the target's eyes. Software on a PC analyses the video images and controls motors that steer the gun in three dimensions. Once it has a fix on the eyes, it aims low to direct the puff of air at the target's nose. Tim Jacob, an expert in the psychology of smell at Cardiff University in the UK, points out that attractive scents- like the smell of freshly baked bread- are already known to keep customers in a store for longer. While retail areas can only be infused with one odour at a time right now, the air cannon could allow different scents to be fired at individuals. Yanagi says his cannon sprays are so fine that one person can smell them while someone just 50 centimetres away cannot. So while one person smells coffee, another nearby could get a noseful of eau de toilette. However, he admits the system has limitations. Synthesising a wide range of different smells could prove problematic, as unlike colour vision there are no "primary" smells that can be used to generate all others. But there are also potential civil rights problems with using scents in this way, Jacobs warns. Customers might object that having scents forced upon them is the olfactory equivalent of subliminal advertising. And some people might be allergic to the scented materials.
Source: Eurekalert & othersLast reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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