Localized dimming is a feature found in many televisions these days, but what about a display capable of producing localized smells? That’s exactly what a team from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology in Japan has created. The “smelling screen” that was recently presented at the IEEE Virtual Reality 2013 conference in Orlando, Florida can produce odors that appear to emanate from specific areas of the screen.

Over the years, we’ve seen various products that have tried to bring an olfactory dimension to everything from mobile phones and the internet, to computer games and movies. So far, none has really tickled the public’s fancy – or olfactory receptors. But this hasn’t stopped Haruka Matsukara and his team from producing their own take on the olfactory display system.

Instead of a one-odor-source-fits-all approach, the team’s smelling screen uses four fans positioned at the corners of the screen to create a virtual odor source that appears to come from a specific area of the display. Instead of simply blowing the odors towards the viewer – or smeller – the airflows generated by the fans collide together before being directed out at the viewer, so the smell appears to be coming from the screen rather than the fans.

By adjusting the balance of the airflows, the virtual odor can be made to emanate from different regions of the display. In this way, the user can shift their head to smell different objects displayed on different parts of the screen. The airflows can even be adjusted down so that the user perceives only the odor and not the air streams themselves.

While probably not a “must-have” technology for home use, Matsukara believes it could find applications in advertising displays and museum exhibits.