NeOse Odor Detector Picks Up the Scent

LAS VEGAS — There are a lot of smells going around CES — it happens when hundreds of thousands of people are in one place. With NeOse, an upcoming device that will detect up to 150 odors, I wondered if I could identify some of those scents. 

Credit: Andrew E. Freedman/Tom's Guide

(Image credit: Andrew E. Freedman/Tom's Guide)

The portable device, which NeOse claims is the first of its kind, uses ventilation to suck in molecules from the subject. That is pulled down to a prism lit by an internal lamp. A specialized camera then records the optical signal from the molecules and sends it to a database to be analyzed and identified.

Aryballe Technologies co-founder and CEO Tristan Rouselle showed me a demonstration of a large prototype. A smaller version, which is green and shaped slightly like a bar of soap was indicative of the final product. He held up a clear liquid in a vial and held it to the NeOse's spout for several seconds, and then handed me the jar to take a whiff and a guess at what was analyzed.

"Lavender?" I suggested. I was close, but wrong. On a MacBook connected to the NeOse prototype via Wi-Fi, he added the new scent to the database, and it was recognized as thyme. During testing phases, the company analyzed smells as varied as cigarette smoke, cleaning alcohol and both burned and grilled bacon.

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Rouselle had to get quite close to the nozzle and be careful not to have anything else in the way. He asked me to take a step back to make sure my hand wouldn't be analyzed on the table nearby. Hopefully the consumer version will be slightly less sensitive.

Aryballe has several suggestions for how the technology could be used in the future. A big one is as an aide to those with anosmia, or a lack of a sense of smell. It also suggests a number of safety, environmental, food and security applications, such as an oven that could smell and fine-tune cooking times or being able to detect air pollution based on odors. The handheld consumer version will sell to consumers in Q4 of 2016 for a price between $200 and $300, while a separate model for industrial use will cost much more.

For now, though, NeOse will be a handheld device connected to an app for Android and iPhone. The applications of technology having a sense of smell could be very useful, but the initial application will more likely be more personal until NeOse's technology finds its way into other devices (which I'm told it may, through the sale of the prism and identification cell to be used on their own), it seems to be aimed more squarely at those with anosmia.