Top Three Applications of Digital Olfaction in Mobility

By Fanny Turlure

Nov 12, 2019

In our previous blog post, we discussed the top trends affecting the mobility market today, and why digital olfaction will play a role in the future success of the industry. Today, we’re taking that one step further and sharing the three top applications of digital olfaction in the automotive industry.

User comfort

You’ve most likely gotten into an Uber or Lyft at some point and been confronted by an unpleasant smell. Maybe it’s leftover trash that the driver has yet to throw out, or maybe the previous passenger was a smoker that left behind the faint scent of cigarettes. Regardless, cars in rental or rideshare fleets are assessed by the next user – it is their first impression of the service – and anything less than a good experience can affect the image, reputation, and even the bottom line of rideshare and rental car companies.

But with the help of digital olfaction and odor sensors, cars could be assessed in real time, sending an alert or push notification whenever an unexpected or unpleasant odor is detected, signaling when a car needs to be removed from rotation, or taken in for maintenance or cleaning.

In this case, data provided by odor sensors could bring objectivity and improve user comfort.

Automotive materials characterization

Just as food, or even other people, can generate unpleasant odors in vehicles, so too can materials, such as plastics or fabrics. I’m sure you’re familiar with that “new car smell”. What if automotive manufacturers could standardize that new car smell? Or better control odor from materials by eliminating the ones that don’t emit the most pleasant of smells? Odor sensors could feasibly enable automotive providers to develop branding strategies around their tailor-made, unique “new car smell”, or the opposite of that and eliminate it altogether. For instance, while Americans may find the new car odor to be pleasant, other countries, such as China, expect a new car to have absolutely no smell at all. Manufacturers could use odor sensors to monitor the cabin, therefore, and adjust materials as necessary to ensure a pleasant experience that matches cultural expectations.

Of course, we recognize that smell is subjective, and odors assessed by panel testers today often present important variations while lacking consistency, all due to their individual health status, personal experiences and memory, as well as cultural context, among others. This is where odor data comes into play. Through pattern recognition and analysis, we can conjugate objectivity by setting odor standards within vehicles.

Safety

As mentioned in our last blog post, safety is a huge trend currently transforming the automotive industry. It also happens to be an area where digital olfaction can come in hand. Specifically, by using odor sensors to diagnose car failures early and before anything catastrophic might occur.

For instance, ageing brakes have a very unique smell to them. Or maybe there is an oil leak, and it’s dripping on a hot motor, which could cause a fire. A heating wire could also be the precursor to something as benign as a short circuit to something more catastrophic like the overheating of an entire system or assembly. The detection of the distinct odor of a heating wire casing could enable more preventative alerts before a catastrophic failure occurs. Aryballe actually performed an experiment with our NeOse Pro on two common types of wire found in automotive systems, which you can learn more about here.

The point is that each of these situations could be prevented by placing odor sensors in well-defined areas aimed to detect early warning signs and provide objective safety data.

How does it all work?

I’m sure you’re thinking at this point, “Yes, this all sounds great, but how does it actually work?” At Aryballe, we’ve developed the NeOse Pro, in which we digitally capture and mimic the human sense of smell for display and store the information in a database for future odor analysis.

If you think about the human sense of smell, it’s really two parts – the nose and the brain. The nose detects the odor signal via proteins in the organ and our brains interpret what these signals mean based on our life experiences and learning. We’re doing the same thing – our O-Cell technology has a proprietary combination of protein fragments (peptides) that responds to odors, creating a picture of the smell (an odor signature). Our software is the brain that interprets what these odor signatures are in the real world based on our database of odor signatures. Essentially, our technology works just like our sense of smell, and right now we are working with leading partners in our core markets to learn as many odors as we can to build our learning and our database.

One of those partners is DENSO, who recently joined our Digital Olfaction Automotive Consortium (DOAC). This is a collaborative forum made up of the world’s top automotive players, with a shared goal of delivering state-of-the-art knowledge on odors, use cases and odor sensing, and to establish standards for odor measurement across the entire automotive industry value chain.

Keep an eye out for white papers coming out of the DOAC, where we’ll continue to provide updates on product requirements to material standard settings.