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Brief Published: 30 Nov 2020

AI Technologies Capture & Recreate Historic Scents


Scent is a well-known conduit to memory – but now it can help to capture distant history. New start-up Odeuropa uses AI to identify and recreate scents from the 16th to the 20th centuries to enrich experiences for visitors to museums and cultural sites.

Odeuropa is developing an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to identify references to scent in historic texts and images. Researchers hope to decode these descriptions for scent notes and to understand the contexts in which smells feature. The results of this research will be compiled into the online Encyclopaedia of Smell Heritage – each scent will be given a small biography, featuring its associated relevance to places and emotions. Using the encyclopaedia, researchers will be able to ‘plot’ the changing social significance of certain smells over time – such as the rise of ‘exotic’ tobacco to the exile of its scent following indoor smoking bans.

Odeuropa is a promising evolution from Save or Delete – part of our Remixing History report – where we explore the high-tech innovations being leveraged to preserve, rather than disrupt, vanishing culture for future generations. The project, which launches in January, recently received a funding injection of €2.8m ($3.3m) from the European Union’s innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

The end goal for Odeuropa is to collaborate with perfumers, artists and museums to recreate certain historic smells for use in exhibitions and events and help educate visitors in olfactory heritage. As we discussed in the Lifestyle and Engagement reports in The Sensory Opportunity, multisensory experiences help increase brand impact and engagement. Projects like Odeuropa will be perfect collaborators to leverage the sensory appeal of future branded events and installations. 

For more on scent’s escapist role during lockdown, see Pandemic Perfumery and The Brief.