As a Unix geek-turned-iOS developer, Damian Esteban can trace his fascination with technology all the way back to the IBM PC Jr. As Damian watched his father set up the family’s first home computer, he was entranced by the way the whole machine seemed to come to life– and now Damian develops apps to bring life to new, innovative ideas.
Formerly confined to cheesy 4-D movies and ill-fated projects such as Smell-O-Vision, new attention is being given to scent technology, now being explored as a peripheral for certain types of consumer products.
In a way, it seems like a natural progression of technology. I’ve written in the past about virtual reality and augmented reality and the ways that both look to deliver an immersive experience. As far as sensory stimuli go, smell has the potential to combine with visuals and audio to take VR a step further. After all, the sense of smell is most closely tied to memories and emotions.
Still, my first instinct is that we’re looking at a technology that will probably not prove especially useful or practical, but who am I to say? Let’s take a look at some of the possible applications for scents.
The British Science Festival, held recently in Brighton, England, hosted researchers demonstrating the ways in which this technology might soon impact lives. As previously mentioned, at the forefront of these demonstrations was VR technology, where worlds are defined by scent as well as sight and sound. In a demonstration, users were transported into a virtual rainforest, complete with the earthy smells one would expect from such a locale.
Outside of the potential to create immersive media experiences, scientists posited that smell technology can have practical applications as well. Another demonstration involved a scent module in a car programmed to release a spray of calming lavender every time its driver sped past the speed limit. And beyond the British Science Festival, Vapor Communications have devised another car-based aromatic device called the Cyrano, intended to create “playlists” of different smells.
However, even David Edwards, founder of Vapor Communications, noted that the Cyrano was essentially a “next-generation air freshener.” Indeed, Edwards’ expectations have been tempered by the failure of the oPhone, a device that allows users to tag photos with a selection of smells for consumption.
This technology carries inherent difficulties in both engineering and marketing. Unlike audio and video, creating a scent requires the projection of physical molecules, which must be distributed properly and with the right intensity to register for users. Additionally, selling these products can be difficult, with most users unconvinced that these devices have value to them. Part of this lies in the fact that smell, as a result of being tied to memory, is highly subjective. Though the scented candle business has thrived on tried-and-true smells such as sandalwood and fluffy towel, not everybody associates the same smells with the same things.
Others still have examined smell technology as a possible way for retailers to stimulate buying among consumers. University of Sussex researcher Emanuela Maggioni, a firm believer in the potential of this new tech, gave the example of the scent of coffee to push library patrons into purchasing coffee.
But is the current interest in smell technology enough of a catalyst for it to become mainstream later on. Edwards is convinced that olfactory illiteracy is what’s holding the public back from embracing this technology and that entrepreneurs like himself are the key to breaking the currently significant barriers to success. His research found that scents were frequently used in the same way as emojis when transmitted—metaphorical representations of common cultural concepts, such as using the scent of smoke when referring to a sultry individual. It remains to be seen what impact this technology will make—and whether something like the Smell-O-Vision will prove a harbinger of future trends.
We live in an age where sustainability is recognized as a necessity to drive down long-term costs while diminishing reliance on fossil fuels. However, we’ve had something of a slow start when it comes to adapting in this way, and now, many companies have tried to fill the void left by governments that have failed to make enough of an impact.
Often, it’s city governments that work to pick up the slack. For instance, the city of New York is looking to improve its energy grid by constructing an offshore wind farm. It’s a project that has started to gain ground in the United States, but there are no ships in the country equipped to install them, leading to ships coming from other countries to assist.
In fact, it has been European countries that have proven the most willing to research offshore wind farms and determine the best ways to execute these sizable projects. However, thanks to technology, researchers at places such as the Carnegie Institution for Science have been able to simulate the impact of offshore wind power. The purpose of these studies was to determine whether or not wind shadow—the depletion of air currents downstream from wind turbines—would affect sea-based facilities as much as their land-based counterparts.
Researchers were able to accurately predict a number of atmospheric influences in their simulation. They found that turbines could be packed together much more tightly than on land, as the wind shadow was far less pronounced. While we’re a long way away from widespread offshore wind farms, it is likely that these discoveries will improve costs and efficiency in the upcoming decades. Other engineering improvements have seen the rise of less costly floating platforms for turbines, in contrast with the extensive deep sea structures that have previously been the norm.
Solar energy has also benefitted from improvements in technology. One of the biggest challenges with this form of energy has been figuring out the best way to store power once it has been generated. Concerns about downtime during the night and on cloudy days have hampered its progress, even though the technology behind it has improved immensely.
SolarReserve has been one of the first companies to address energy storage concerns, and projects such as the Crescent Dunes solar energy facility have showcased their innovative technology. The company makes use of something called a molten salt tower receiver, a structure centered in the middle of solar panels, meant to collect energy gathered and store it for future use. This is accomplished through the use of molten salt, which acts as a storage medium, flowing to and from the tower and allowing energy to be used whenever it is needed. The process involves no fossil fuels and is scalable, allowing for facilities to vary in size and output depending on needs.
Additionally, in Crescent Dunes as well as other solar facilities, machine learning has proved critical to improving efficiency and making sustainability more viable. Data is being used to optimize energy systems, allowing for as much solar power as possible to be collected during peak daylight hours and used. Some companies that make use of microgrid technology for homes allow for customers to use their cell phones to control solar panels and manage energy distribution and storage. Still more are simply trying to change the way that solar panels are sold, positioning them in better ways to consumers and seeking to put them on the same competitive level as traditional energy systems.
As technology advances, we’ve seen costs of energy systems driven down and more companies working to research improvements to infrastructure. The United States and the world have a long way to go when it comes to outgrowing reliance on fossil fuels, but it seems likely that advances will go a long way to make the pipe dream of true sustainability into a real possibility.
Abstract and yet very much impactful, the rise of cryptocurrencies has made waves in many circles. Though Bitcoin is the most well-known cryptocurrency and the one that has achieved the most mainstream success, others such as Ethereum have become popular as well. Since its inception, many companies have begun to incorporate cryptocurrency into their businesses. Developers Baroness Mone and Douglas Barrowman have taken to using Bitcoin for pricing their upscale Dubai apartments. Some of these apartments are being advertised at 30 Bitcoins—the equivalent of over 130,000 US dollars at time of writing.
So, given the fluctuation of cryptocurrency, why would businesses want to rely on Bitcoin when it comes to doing business?
The short answer is that they don’t. Anybody purchasing an apartment will have to convert their Bitcons to dollars in order to complete the transaction. Still, the exact benefits of using Bitcoin in transactions are somewhat murky for many, with Mone’s main justification being its popularity.
“The Bitcoin model trades half a million pounds a day,” said Mone. “We cannot ignore it.”
If you’re not entirely sure how cryptocurrency works, you’re not alone. However, a good place to start understanding the workings of cryptocurrency is understanding that the investment process is more like trading stocks than anything else. The value of different currencies fluctuate overtime, both appealing to more niches in the market and undermining Bitcoin’s previous dominance.
Digital currencies have been attempted before, but Bitcoin was the first to do so successfully. Developed by an individual operating under the pseudonym Satoshi, Bitcoin operates with a decentralized network reliant on peers to regulate transactions.
As there is no central entity, such as a bank, controlling Bitcoin, Bitcoin miners perform one of the most important jobs in the network. Every time a transaction takes place, it needs to be validated and added to what’s called the blockchain, a complete record of every balance and transaction in the network. It is the job of the miners to find a hash that connects every block in the blockchain together. The reason for this system is to prevent any one entity from controlling the process, making peers necessary for it to function. Miners are entitled to Bitcoins for their work in supporting the network, making mining the only way to generate new currency.
While other cryptocurrencies may vary in their methods, they inevitably share many elements with Bitcoin, namely the cryptography used to secure transactions (hence the “crypto” in “cryptocurrency”), irreversible transactions, and lack of permissions required to use the software.
The critical mass of users is necessary for a strong cryptocurrency, the reason why Bitcoin remains the most successful. Monitoring usage is one of the reasons why cryptocurrencies has proved so successful, and many strive to invest in different varieties. Some can prove successful, but others may die out in the opening months if there is no interest, with any investments lost completely.
The cryptocurrency market is doing very well, with more and more investors and businesses incorporating it into their ventures. As with any investment, there are inherent risks, but many financial portfolios have been bolstered by cryptocurrencies, and the benefits of instant and secure trade have not been lost on online communities.
About Damian Esteban
Damian was most recently the lead developer at Spare Change, Inc. where he focused on FinTech in mobile and web applications. He is a strong leader who believes that tight-knit teams can accomplish truly amazing things. Damian graduated from SUNY Geneseo in 2000 with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and McGill University in 2003 with a Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies. He attended the New York Code and Design Academy in 2013.
- Unix Server Administration
- RESTful API Design
- Reactive Programming