It may look like a futuristic sex toy, but the iSmell aims to show surfers just how much the Internet stinks.
The product, from California-based outfit DigiScents, was today given an airing at Fall Internet World in New York. Although just a prototype, the idea is that surfers will soon be able to click and sniff via the holes in iSmell's smooth shark fin design.
It has 128 different basic odors that can be mixed and matched to conjure up just about any smell, according to David Libby, the company's PR director. It will be aimed at the videogame market - gamers should get a kick out of being able to smell the blood of their recently slain opponent - movies, e-commerce sites, such as flower or food e-tailers, advertising and music.
"I would think that a lot of people would be interested in smelling the latest Britney Spears video," suggested the blushing Libby.
The device is plugged into the USB port of a computer, and the software will be downloadable. The iSmell works via a fan in the bottom - when an image is clicked on a tiny file moves from the server to the device, which it identifies as, say for perversion's sake, Britney's pigtails, and triggers the cartridge inside to emit the right scent mixture. And all before you can say "Hit me baby one more time".
Although the iSmell is still being developed - at today's demonstration it was hard to tell the difference between a coffee whiff and a chocolate one, the plan is to start shipping it as soon as 2001. The company launched its ScentWare Web development kit at this week's show, and claims to have more than 3000 software developers signed up for its software development kit, which it launched in March.
Of course, it's still a bit of a chicken and egg situation - most punters won't want the iSmell until sites offer the whiffy service, and companies presumably won't want to plough cash into getting the technology on their sites until the iSmells are in people's homes. Libby said the company, which has its R&D facility in Israel, was currently "in talks with companies in varying degrees" to get them signed up.
"People today fill their houses with things like surround sound - they want more memorable and lifelike experiences," said Libby. "This takes virtual reality to the next level and makes life a lot more immersive." ®