Smelling the Future

Aug. 20, 2021

What odors could be used for by 2075.

One of the nice things about writing this blog is getting to use spillover material – information I come across in researching a print article that I just can’t put in the magazine, for space or other reasons.

I’m now working on an article for our October issue about new technologies in food processing. I’m aiming for real Buck Rogers stuff that is not, or is just barely, commercialized.

Well, it doesn’t get any more Buck Rogers than some of the predictions in a paper about artificial noses.

“Artificial noses” or “electronic noses,” which supposedly could analyze volatiles from foods or beverages to develop flavor profiles, were a big thing in the 1990s. However, they mostly failed to live up to their initial hype. This paper, “Artificial Olfaction in the 21st Century,” published in the June issue of the IEEE Sensors Journal, looks at where they are and, especially, where they’re going. The last few pages of the paper are taken up with comprehensive predictions for the future, divided into 2025, 2050 and 2075.

As you can imagine, the farther you go into the future, the wilder things get. Here are some of the predictions for 2050:

eNose devices will be included in every household appliance, including the vacuum cleaner. Realtime odor identification and level will be reported to a home data center. Offending odors will be traceable to the generating source and event.

Wearable sensors will be more widely utilized, with more digital inclusion.

Personal odor will be used as a means of identification.

Robots, such as helpers or dogs, will have integrated eNoses and be able to recognize their owners based on smell.

And here’s what we can expect by 2075:

We will move around the environment with our clothes, buildings and personal transport devices. These systems will be able to track individuals based on their odor profile. Global odor maps will be created and updated on a second-by-second basis.

Bio-replacement human noses for those who lose their sense of smell.

Bio-enhancement of the human nose to be the same as a dog or beyond.

If you think being tracked by your cell phone is bad, how do you think you’ll feel about being tracked by your scent?

Before embarking on the predictions, the authors write, “Please give us a grade in 25 years!” I’m not sure that’ll even be necessary. By then, won’t they be able to smell what we think?