Perfume-puffing robot sniffs out social media mentions

The Olly robot Olly watches what is done in your name online and marks it with a whiff of scent.

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The old saying that your ears go red when people are talking about you is getting a 21st Century update.

Now your nose can tell you when you are being talked about on social networks thanks to a net-connected robot.

Called Olly, the robot watches the millions of messages passing through social networks and spots when its owner is mentioned.

For every mention or referral Olly emits a waft of scent as a "reward" for the online interaction.

Olly was thought up and refined by Benjamin Redford as a project for technology company Mint. The idea, he told the BBC, was to develop a device that was connected to the net but which did not display its output on a screen.

Make your own

"We wanted to reward people in the physical world for their digital and social interactions," he said.

Smell rapidly emerged as a good medium for that reward, he said, because a whiff of perfume could catch someone's attention without overly distracting them.

"We are gradually spending more and more time on screen and it's good to have some other form of sensory stimulus rather than just video and audio," he said.

Smell was a intuitive way to gauge online interaction without constantly having to monitor feeds, notifications and other message streams, he said.

"They can all get a bit much," said Mr Redford.

Olly (short for olfactory) has gone through several versions since its initial design. The latest plans are for a gadget much smaller than the original.

Olly robot plans Olly is built around the DIY electronics board known as Arduino

Plans to make an Olly robot have been put online under a creative commons licence so anyone can make their own, said Mr Redford. Putting one together demands a passing familiarity with electronics, 3D printing and computer programming.

Once finished, Olly can keep an eye on Twitter, Facebook or almost any other online account. The software that controls Olly can be tuned to emit a puff of perfume for a few different types of online interaction such as a retweet, posting a comment, a mention by name or a specific text search.

The scents that Olly wafts around a room can also be tailored, as the device has a drawer on its rear where the scent can sit. Smells tried during testing included vomit, candyfloss and a partner's perfume, said Mr Redford.

The complexity of building an Olly robot made the audience for it "fairly niche", said Mr Redford, but he added that a small but growing number were now in use around the world.

One chef in the US had loaded his Olly with the essence of tortilla to monitor when his restaurants were being mentioned online.

Olly has proved a hit with companies too, said Mr Redford. One company had decided to manufacture lots of Olly robots to help with a marketing campaign that will launch in late 2012.

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