'Creating a Stink - Investigating Olfactory Transport Streams'

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Electrical Engineering and Electronics


If we are to enjoy the benefits of truly immersive environments, then future communicaitons networks will need to be designed to be able to transport more sensory information than the visual and auditory senses they serve today.

The research proposed here seeks to investigate how we can combine communications theory with recent advances in olfactory technologies. The coupling of these two disparate disciplines opens up radically new areas of research, and this project will investigate two key aspects that are essential in order to take this forward.

Firstly, we will investigate how we can characterise and then efficiently transmit odour (scent) over conventional communications networks such as the Internet, and accurately recreate it at a receiver, particularly when it is transmitted alongside video streams as envisaged for future immersive services. This is essentially 'scent teleportation', however in order to accomplish this we need to understand how can we design networks that can efficiently transport this type of information and how it is affected by network impairments such as packet loss, delay and jitter, i.e. what is the quality of service required to transmit scent?

Secondly, we will investigate how we can employ scent technologies to create a completely new communications medium. To achieve this we need to understand how we can modulate data symbols onto scent carriers (plumes), and consequently what types of modulation are available to do this (leading to devices that can produce odour streams that are digitally encoded), what are the factors governing this type of transmission though the air, and what are the typical entropy rates that can be achieved?

We will also investigate how we can employ this as a secure communications channel, e.g. whereby the data (carried over a scent plume) is only coherently received at a specific location and instant (or window) of time. Such channels may be used to securely distribute encryption keys.

We will also explore opportunities to commercial exploit the research developed in this project; through IP protection, collaboration with our start-up companies and Industrial partner, and through the development of a follow-on proposal designed to demonstrate the technologies. We anticipate substantial interest from a range of sectors and industries, as identified in the impact strategy.

Planned Impact

Benefits accruing from this research?
The beneficiaries include:
- People. Other researchers interested in this new area will benefit from access to a completely new facility (the OTC). More generally the public will benefit from it, e.g. in entertainment, broadcasting etc, where the ability to sense and then remotely reconstruct odour streams alongside video and sound streams will introduce a much greater sense of realism into teleconferences, broadcasts, augmented reality and games.
- Governments, defence organisations and companies who can take advantage of the new security channels offered by our research, e.g. to securely distribute security keys.
- Economic benefits. Both aspects of the research (A and B) will open up new avenues of communications and networked applications that can be commercially exploited, e.g. by the entertainment industry (as described above for part A), and by the Security, and Health and Safety industries for part B. As this is a completely new strand of research, many of the areas to which it can be applied are yet to be determined, however some examples of such areas are given above, and in the Impact Plan. These are all multi-million dollar industries, and the ability to capture even a very small fraction of these will ensure a high economic return.

Ensuring economic and societal impact
The applicants have a strong record in commercialising relevant academic research (see Impact Plan), and will look to exploit any resulting intellectual property through the University of Liverpool's "Business Gateway" division who are responsible for commercialisation of IP throughout the University. In addition, both Start-up companies (TOM Ltd and Q-Technologies Ltd) have expressed strong interest in commercial exploitation (see letters of support): TOM Ltd in the security arena, and Q-Technologies in the mass spectrometry market, and via Agilent Technologies.

What are the skills/trained people benefits of this research?
The programme of research will result in the training of a number of staff with the vital skills to prosecute further developments in this new area. Moreover the skills are multi-disciplinary in nature, uniquely combining communications and information theory with mass spectrometry, organic chemistry and expertise in olfactory systems design.
Training will take place at a number of levels:
- Creation of world-class experts, i.e. the PDRAs and PhD student associated with the project.
- Influence and interaction with other engineers and leading academics through the project steering group, particularly with Professor Cooks at Purdue who is an acknowledged world authority in Mass Spectrometry and is extremely interested in working on this project with us (see letter of support).Also, through publications, the IET workshop and other conference special sessions.
- Through day-today research interactions with research institutes, project partners and professional bodies.
Description Design of a world first "Olfactory Test Chamber". This is a new scientific instrument that can be used as a platform to examine particle-based transmission of information, such a molecular communications.

A greater understanding of how we can modulate data onto chemical flows (e.g. gases) in closed environments (e,g, tubes).

A greater understanding of how our olfactory sense (smell) can be used to augment our other senses in immersive environments.
Exploitation Route (i) Further research into how we can produce portable olfactory devices
(ii) Commercial exploitation of the above, especially w.r.t. immersive environments
(iii) further fundamental research into molecular communications systems.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Security and Diplomacy

Description Context Aware network architectures for Sending Multiple Senses (CASMS)
Amount £1,310,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P004040/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 10/2020