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Smelling Signals

Published onNov 04, 2019
Smelling Signals


A Pub in which you “Build Yourself a Superpower.” Design some kind of plausible way to instantiate that superpower using known or very-near future technologies. (No time-travel, no quantum realm, no “mutant” powers unless you’re in Kevin Esvelt’s group.)


The ability to smell radio signals in the environment and know what the prevaling frequencies are just by the difference in scents.


In a 2014 study, it was shown that “we can distinguish at least 1 trillion different odors — up from previous estimates of a mere 10,000” [1]. Given our extreme abilities in distinguishing between a massive library of scents, it would be interesting to extend this sense to understand other things in our environment that we can’t normally sense — similar to how audio is sometimes used to convey information or perceptualize data (i.e. sonification).

Judith in Fluid Interfaces is developing olfactory wearables [2] that dynamically release scent to augment the users (e.g. lessen anxiety, increase sleep quality, etc.). This can be further extended for a future wearable where a small collection of scents can be dynamically combined at varying quantities to represent signals in the space.

To interface with the olfactory system, we need a method of sampling the radio signals in the space. That is fairly trivial given the modern RF equipment we have that can sample the entire RF spectrum, albeit a bit pricy depending on the resolution, sensitivity, and highest frequencies to sense.

This superpower can be used to not only sense what RF signals are in the environment but where they are originating from. This can be used to identify specific people/devices and if there is something/someone emitting a signal that shouldn’t be.




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