Saturday, August 19, 2017

Smell as a Weapon, and Odor as Entertainment



The use of smell as a weapon, or a deterrent, was explored in a fanciful way in my previous post on nuclear threats. While poking around the literature, I found a fascinating unclassified document from the Army Research Laboratory, Olfaction Warfare: Odor as Sword and Shield (PDF). The authors provide a sweeping overview of odor, from chemical tactics in the natural world to the use of scents in the beauty and entertainment industries. The primary military application discussed by Schmeisser et al. (2013) is the use of odor in stealth operations. These are designed to deceive the enemy by masking current location or projecting smells to a false location. Although the document does not propose putrid odor as an offensive weapon, the authors discuss the history of such efforts.


Stink Bombs

Stink bombs are “devices designed to create an unpleasant smell forcing people to leave an area or protecting off-limits areas against being entered.”

One unsavory application during WWII was used to make German officers smell like rotten meat, but unfortunately, “this substance was so volatile that it could not be confined to specific targets and contaminated everything in the area.”

Another unsuccessful project from 1966 tried to develop “culturally specific stink bombs, which would affect Vietnamese guerillas, leaving the U.S. troops unaffected. The project was abandoned due to technical barriers.”

But a more contemporary program reached the pinnacle of olfactory deterrence:
In 2001 the U.S. announced the development of the ultimate stink bomb aimed at driving away hostile forces by a stench so foul that it results not only in disgust or aversion but also fear. The odorant used in the bomb has been developed by a team of researchers led by Dr. Pamela Dalton at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia and is a mixture of two agents: the U.S. Government Standard Bathroom Malodor (a mixture of eight chemicals with a stench similar to human feces but much stronger) and the Who-Me?, a sulphur-based odorant that smells like rotting carcasses...

Scratch-and-Sniff

Schmeisser et al.'s technical report makes for surprisingly entertaining reading. It's highly unlikely that any other military document praises Polyester, John Waters' 1981 multimodal film event that provided viewers with scratch-and-sniff cards.
The cards had 10 numbered spots (1.roses, 2.flatulence, 3.model airplane glue, 4.pizza, 5.gasoline, 6.skunk, 7.natural gas, 8.new car smell, 9.dirty shoes, and 10.air freshener) that the audience scratched and sniffed when the appropriate number flushed at the corner of the screen. This system, called Odorama, solved the problem with hanging odors that was the main problem of the early smell-distributing systems.

Waters' Odorama succeeded where the older scent distributions systems had failed. Smell-O-Vision (1939) and AromaRama (1959) were financial disasters for movie theaters, because “the odors were weak, the smells persisted longer than was desired, and the molecules were distributed by noisy systems.”


OloramaTM

Present day technology for odor delivery has advanced beyond scratch-and-sniff, of course, and Olorama offers an enhanced cinematic experience (“the smells jump off the screen”). The kits feature “very compact, hidden aromatization devices that are installed under seats (1 device for every 5-7 seats, depending on their size).”

They also sell a product for home use. Olfactory enhancement of virtual reality is not a new development, but this VR system looks stylish, at the very least.





The company stocks over 70 scents in categories such as Fantasy, Food, Wild, and...

ACTION

FIRE - RAIN - FOREST

(AND COMING SOON...):
GUNPOWDER - BLOOD - BURNING RUBBER


Reference

Schmeisser E, Pollard KA, Letowski T. Olfaction warfare: odor as sword and shield. ARMY RESEARCH LAB. ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND MD. HUMAN RESEARCH AND ENGINEERING DIRECTORATE; 2013 Mar.

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