Computers have gotten more and more sophisticated at reading visual and audio cues, but they’ve lagged behind in one major, albeit quirky, area: scent. As Reuters explained in a piece last year, smell sensors work must do fundamentally different work than cameras or microphones, and the challenge has defeated more than one company. One of the remaining contenders is a group called Aryballe Technologies, whose “optical nose” NeOse is on show at this year’s CES.
The device above is the second NeOse prototype, the NeOse Pro. When owners point a small tube on one end at an odor, it uses a combination of chemical sensors and an optical system to identify different scent molecules and test them against a database of known smells. In 15 to 30 seconds, an iPhone app spits out a profile of the smell and — if it successfully matches it — an identification. NeOse has a general database, and companies can also record their own scents and then test against them. Aryballe isn’t the first company to make a scent detector, but it touts its portability and flexibility as unique benefits.
The NeOse is meant for business markets, not consumers — set for release in June or July, it’s supposed to cost between $10,000 and $15,000. Aryballe says some of its primary markets are the food and cosmetics industries, where companies could record ideal smells for their products and then use the NeOse for quality control. It could also test air quality in cities, or detect the foul odor of a waste management leak. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to test NeOse’s capabilities for ourselves, since the CES Wi-Fi situation is too bad for it to connect to the database.
Hypothetically, the NeOse or something like it could eventually come to consumers as well. You probably won’t be buying a personal smell detector any time soon. But your fridge, for example, could integrate one to tell if food is spoiling. Someday, the dream is that smell sensors could become as commonplace as light or sound detectors — but that future still seems a ways off.