Smell-O-Vision is real, and it’s called the oPhone

Remember Google Nose? It was one of several April Fools Day jokes created by the company last year, and pretended we could search for a particular smell and then get a whiff of it through our smartphone. Ha, good one Google. Except Google Nose isn’t a joke anymore. It’s called the oPhone, it’s real, and you’ll be able to buy one before the end of the year.

However, the oPhone hasn’t been created by Google. Instead, it comes from a team of scientists, artists, and generally crazy people who make up the Olfactive Project, alongside art and design center Le Laboratoire in Paris, and a team of students from Harvard University. It’s not just a cool, if slightly bizarre, tech experiment either. There’s a real ethos behind the oPhone.

Apparently, sending each other smells may be a better way to communicate emotions than simply using words, as it removes barriers such as language and culture. The oPhone website talks about “global communication,” and a world where smells “are a moving gesture of friendship.” It’s a bit hippy-dippy, but few people would misinterpret the overall meaning behind the smell of roses, no matter what language they spoke.

Now, although the name suggests we’re going to see a phone, the idea is misleading. It’s a device that connects to a phone. Smells are generated by the oPhone accessory after being selected and sent from your smartphone, like a smelly, wordless text message. Lovely. The oPhone project has been running for a while, and has been demonstrated several times over the past year. You can see the smell of espresso coffee being sent from room to room in the video below.

Early testers noted the smell produced by the oPhone is very personal, and not a cloud of scent like one of those automatic bathroom air fresheners. It’s also possible to combine smells from a recipe, and create complex, muliti-layered messages understood only by the recipients nose. Because the oPhone is an accessory, it could be attached to other devices such as your computer or music system, enabling songs and even websites to be accompanied by a particular whiff.

Next month, the oPhone reaches another stage in its development. It’s set to be demonstrated at the opening of a U.S. spinoff of Le Laboratoire called The Lab Cambridge in Boston. We spoke to David Edwards, creator of the oPhone and founder of Le Laboratoire, by email about his plans for the event at The Laboratory Cambridge. The opening exhibition will play host to the launch of the oPhone app and accompanying website, along with a new version of the oPhone itself, called the oPhone Duo. It’s described as a “pre-commercial form of the first commercially available oPhone.” If all goes well, a commercial oPhone should be ready to go during the final three months of 2014.

The oPhone Duo will be demonstrated by taking visitors on a walk through Paris, experienced solely through smells. Also, the team will again utilize the aroma of coffee – the world’s most universally recognized odor, apparently – and give people the chance to, “communicate aromatically, and experience coffee in new sensorial ways.”

Going back to the app, we’re promised it will be fun even without owning an oPhone, and should you be close to the The Laboratory Cambridge at any time, messages sent using the app can be downloaded at a special terminal inside the ArtScience Cafe to experience what they smell like.

The oPhone is fascinating, technically creative, futuristic, and more than a little crazy. We think it sounds great, and look forward to sending pleasing niffs to our friends in the very near future.