Reading an email could soon be a more sensory experience, thanks to a device created by Telewest.
The cable firm said on Thursday that it is now selling a product that allows computer users with a broadband connection to smell their emails.
The aromatic technology is based on a gadget called a scent dome that plugs into the serial port of a PC. When a "smelly" email is opened, the scent dome mixes together certain aromas to generate the particular smell of the email and releases it as a fine spray around the computer. According to Telewest, this will bring a third sense to the Internet, and the company is working hard to develop a wider range of possible smells.
"This could bring an extra whiff of realism to the Internet," explained Chad Raube, director of Internet services at Telewest Broadband. "We are always looking at ways to enhance the broadband Internet experience of the future and this time we are sure consumers will come up smelling of roses."
At £250, the scent dome is probably too expensive for most consumers, and without a significant installation base there is unlikely to be much commercial interest. In the long term, though, e-commerce sites could use smelly emails as a way of boosting interest in their wares. For example, a supermarket could tag its emails with the smell of fresh bread, coffee or wine.
The idea of adding scent to email isn't new, but Telewest is thought to be one of the first firms to launch a commercial product. The technology behind the Telewest scent dome was created by Trisenx, an American company, while back in 2000 scientists at the Wieseman Institute in Israel announced they have developed technology that could allow smells to be sent over the Internet.
Currently, the scent dome can generate around 60 different smells, and staff at Telewest's research and development operations are hoping to increase this number to perhaps as many as 2,000.