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Brief Published: 2 May 2014

SensaBubble: Scent Messages


Researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK have created a machine that produces scent bubbles to convey messages.

The SensaBubble produces bubbles filled with a scented fog. The machine tracks the path of the bubble, and projects accompanying images or text onto its surface – this could be anything from an email notification to an advert.

The system explores 'chrono-sensory experiences' – layering information that is presented via different senses for varying lengths of time. Sriram Subramanian, lead professor on the project, says it could lead to less disruptive forms of communication in the workplace.

"We were inspired to design ambient and floating notifications so that they did not intrude with your current task at the computer," he told Stylus. "As the scent also provides information, you do not have to see the visual to realise that you have received an email or a tweet."

The engaging display could be adapted for other uses. "It would be great as a maths education system for kids, retail marketing for scent-related companies and art and museum exhibits," Subramanian suggested.

The system has been developed by the team behind the Mistable – an interactive table that featured floating interfaces made from "curtains of mist". Both research projects will be presented at the ACM CHI 2014, a conference for human-technology interfaces held in Toronto later this month.

The use of smell to relay information is gaining ground. Devices such as the Ophone are providing new systems for olfactory communication, while the power of scent has been explored in healthcare as an appetite stimulant. See Scent and Dementia for more.

For further information on how the user interface is changing with the development of more fluid, flexible technologies, see The New User Interface and Human First, part of our Agile Futures Macro Trend.