Most of us are familiar with the basic mechanics of a digital SLR camera (that's Single Lens Reflex for those of you with the Google search bar open), which essentially enables image capture through the use of a mirror and prism system. The real brilliance of the SLR is that is allows a photographer to see exactly what they are shooting and reproduce it with the click of a button—a far cry from the viewfinder cameras of yesteryear where you weren't sure how your photo might turn out. So the idea of a direct reproduction is powerful... but what if you wanted to capture a smell instead of a sight? Enter the Madeline: an Analog Odor Camera.
Designer Amy Radcliffe employs a technique known in the perfume biz as 'Headspace Capture' to collect and record the things that emit odors. In traditional headspace capture (most often used by perfumers and botanists), a glass bell is placed over the odor of interest to create an airtight seal over the scented object. The air inside the bell is swept through a tube and into trap that is housed in the main unit of the Madeline by a small air pump. The Madeline then filters out the scent molecules from the air so that they can be analyzed. Just as a digital SLR captures light input for photography, the Madeline records an exact copy of the smell data for reproduction. Radcliffe writes:
If an analogue, amateur-friendly system of odour capture and synthesis could be developed, we could see a profound change in the way we regard the use and effect of smells in our daily lives. From manipulating our emotional wellbeing through prescribed nostalgia, to the functional use of conditioned scent memory, our olfactory sense could take on a much more conscious role in the way we consume and record the world.
The entire process can take between a couple of minutes and an entire day depending on what you happen to be collecting. After the absorption from the source of the scent, the Madeline records the molecular data of the specific odor. Users of the Madeline can then submit their scent to a lab and have it manufactured artificially and ordered in small batches.
It was really only a matter of time before we had to branch out into recording and documentation of the most underutilized sensory input in object design. But let's be honest—it's going to take some pretty serious convincing to see a market for the Madeline. It would appear that if smell really is the most direct link to emotional memory, then process of headspace capture is prime real estate for industrial designers to reconsider the design of objects with which we capture them. The Madeline is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to products that begin to unravel what could become a very interesting body of work dealing with smell and eventually digitizing scent.
If we will soon live in a world where you can manufacture a smellscape for your college girlfriend instead of that terrible mix tape you've been working on, then the Madeline marks a first step that leaves us with questions. We are pretty sure that Twitter and Google plus don't need to branch out into an olfactory plug-ins and apps... yet. But once the technology catches up, we can't wait for someone to internet connect their Madeline for real-time at home smell transfer.
We can't help but wait with baited breath for digital scent technology to catch up for the Madeline to become a more viable consumer product. Much like the shortcomings of the Olly or the object nostalgia of the SLR film camera we're left wishing for a fully realized digital smell recorder. So we have to ask our readers, does scent capture really represent an opportunity in the market? Will products like the Madeline overcome their own novelty and technology gaps to truly change the way we use scent? Only time will tell...