Madeleine "smell camera" records odors for the future
By Dave Parrack
July 2, 2013
The five traditional senses of perception – sound, sight, smell, touch, and taste – are all capable of triggering memories. However, we haven't yet figured out how to capture copies of all of these inputs. We can capture images on cameras and sounds on audio equipment, we can recreate tastes to a certain degree, and we can simulate touch with physical copies of other things. But what about smells? The ability to capture everyday odors in an immutable state has eluded us. Until now.
Designer Amy Radcliffe has created a "smell camera" that turns photography into "scent-ography." Based on technology known as "Headspace Capture," and developed for the perfume industry, her device captures odors rather than images.
Radcliffe's device is officially titled Madeleine and is described as being an "analogue odour camera." The reference to a camera is a fitting one, as photographs are an obvious and essential way of recording and retaining memories, with specific moments in time forever captured for future generations to explore. This is a variation on that theme, just with a different sense being piqued.
Madeleine records the molecular information of a smell, with the source of said smell being placed under a glass dome. A pump extracts the smell from the source; this takes anything from a few minutes to a full day, depending on the strength and subtlety of the smell being captured. The smell is then drawn through tubes to the main unit where a resin trap absorbs the particles. If the dome is Madeleine's nose then the main unit is her brain, recording the data it logs from the odor that wafts its way.
A graph-like formula is produced which contains the fingerprint of the smell captured. The smell can then be reproduced artificially, with a specialized lab turning the raw data into a bronze disk with the formula inscribed on it, as well as small vials of the captured scent. This means that once a smell is captured, you could order extra batches when you need an olfactory hit.
Whether it's a certain scent of perfume worn by a loved one who has passed away, or the odor of a particular foodstuff that was dominant during a holiday, smells are capable of sparking remembrances and changing moods. This makes Madeleine an intriguing concept which could eventually lead to smells being as simple to leaf through as photographs are today.
The video embedded below shows the whole process from beginning to end.