Forget surfing, sniff the Net

Through a partnership with Germany's Ruetz Technologies and ISIPCA (the Superior International Institute of Perfume, Cosmetics and Food Aromatics), the research and development arm of France Télécom said Thursday it developed the first experimental device for dispersing smells over the Web. Using a local diffuser unit, the company can produce a variety of aromas related to multimedia content of the Web sites being viewed.

A current prototype designed for individual use lets a user navigate a Web site and then click with the mouse to release a variety of smells. France Télécom said a virtual garden or plant nursery site may emit fragrances of familiar fruits or flowers.

Another prototype geared toward collective use could make its way into television or possibly the video game market, the company said. France Télécom said an interactive scented television might present the local weather report with odours of dry hay or cut grass. On the sporting side of things, a user might watch the Indianapolis 500 and encounter the smell of scorched tires as the cars begin the race. A virtual tour of an office building could deliver the scent of fresh-brewed coffee in the lobby and then musty documents in the back office.

France Télécom even suggested that the adoption of video phones could allow users to catch a whiff of their conversation partner's cologne or perfume.

Within a year, the French carrier said users will be able to access roughly 200 scents via a device that fits both on the computer or around the user's neck for mobility.

In November, the company plans to carry out tests measuring the effects of the service and ways to experiment with the new devices. At the current time, the beginning, duration and frequency of the smells are regulated to control the length of time the user encounters the scent.

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