WNNY: The New Technologies of Scent and the Future of Food & Health


Of all our senses, the sense of smell is probably the least studied and appreciated. However, in recent years our scientific understanding of how we perceive scents and what they do to our brains and immune systems has deepened. It turns out that scent accounts for around 80% of the experience of flavor, a dominant force in the experience and enjoyment of eating. We also are learning how scents clearly and directly affect our emotions. Some scents (even when you hardly perceive them) will pick you up and give you energy while others will help calm you down or take you to a remembered experience. Our deepening understanding has reached the point where a new wave of technologies is being developed by a new crop of startup companies that promise to make an impact on a range of industries from food and restaurants to health and wellness.

David Edwards is an inventor and entrepreneur with no less than three startups in this new space and he anchored a What’s Now: New York event, done in partnership with Capgemini at their Applied Innovation Exchange. Edwards is a scientist and professor of the Practice of Idea Translation at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. He’s also the co-founder of three companies at various stages of development that all are working on different dimensions of olfactory experience. His company oNotes has developed technology to digitally deliver scents to consumers through an app and device, their first deal is with Lamborghini to improve driver wellbeing via playlists of scents — what they call olfactory notes or oNotes. They are working with multinational companies like Siemens to explore how employees can use oNotes in their personal workspace to improve performance — while management gets insight via aggregate digital scent behavior on stressful times and circumstances it can try to alleviate.

Edwards’ second company Sensory Cloud produces devices that create sensory clouds of flavor for the food and beverages industry. Restaurants, bars or even entertainment venues will be able to use these air garnishes for shaping the aroma experience of drinks and foods, or (in combination with the oNotes Platform) digitally transmitting flavor experience to consumers during electronic entertainment.

RetrO, his latest company, has the potential to impact the health and wellness industry by using scents and flavors to replace the normal delivery of drugs through injection or ingestion. With collaborators in academia and industry, Edwards is building a clinical program to use these new scent technologies to develop this much less invasive approach to shaping human health. Edwards talked about this new frontier of sensory experience and the wave of innovation that it is starting to drive.