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Special Feature

Passing the sniff test

  • from Shaastra :: vol 02 issue 05 :: Sep - Oct 2023
The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans may trigger diverse reactions based on people's associations with it.

With deep research into olfaction, scientists are on the scent of a way to digitise, map and predict odours.

Growing up in the 1980s, Johannes Bintinger considered Star Trek his go-to guide for science fiction. Years later, as an organic electronics scientist in Austria, Bintinger was still obsessed with the image of Dr McCoy — 'Bones' to Trekkies — scanning patients with his 'tricorder'.

"A handheld sensor that could scan a person and provide lifesaving information: think about what it would mean," he exclaims.

Art inspired life, and for Bintinger and many others in the sensor tech space, re-creating a tricorder became a lifelong dream.

Bintinger wanted to build a device that could sense, record and compute not just visual and aural data but also olfactory data. How to digitise odours was the first question he sought to answer. In 2021, after a decade of research, he went on to co-found a company called NOSI (Network for Olfactory System Intelligence), which creates olfactory sensors.


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