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Information Olfactation: Harnessing Scent to Convey Data

Olfactory feedback for analytical tasks is a virtually unexplored area in spite of the advantages it offers for information recall, feature identification, and location detection. Here we introduce the concept of information olfactation as the fragrant sibling of information visualization, and discuss how scent can be used to convey data. Building on a review of the human olfactory system and mirroring common visualization practice, we propose olfactory marks, the substrate in which they exist, and their olfactory channels that are available to designers. To exemplify this idea, we present VISCENT: A six-scent stereo olfactory display capable of conveying olfactory glyphs of varying temperature and direction, as well as a corresponding software system that integrates the display with a traditional visualization display. Finally, we present three applications that make use of the viScent system: A 2D graph visualization, a 2D line and point chart, and an immersive analytics graph visualization in 3D virtual reality. We close the paper with a review of possible extensions of viScent and applications of information olfactation for general visualization beyond the examples in this paper.


Patnaik, B., Batch, A., & Elmqvist, N. (2018). Information Olfactation: Harnessing Scent to Convey Data. IEEE transactions on visualization and computer graphics.

Biswaksen Patnaik, Andrea Batch, and Niklas Elmqvist. 2018. Olfactory Analytics: Exploring the Design Space of Smell for Data Visualization. AVI 2018 Workshop on Multimodal Interaction for Data Visualization (May 2018). https://multimodalvis.

This is an ongoing project. This research is being supervised by Prof. Niklas Elmqvist at the Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL) in the University of Maryland College Park.

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