SAVANNAH -- You've heard of scratch-and-sniff marketing. Ellwood Ivey Jr. wants you to click and smell.
Mr. Ivey's company, Savannah-based TriSenx, has obtained a patent for a technology that uses a desktop printer-like device to produce smells based on data programmed into a Web page -- essentially allowing one to download a smell or taste from the Internet.
The scent technology, which several companies have been developing in various permutations, works by mixing several base chemicals that emit the desired smell.
A rose is a rose and all that, even when its scent is a digitalized simulation delivered through the Net.
Like an overachieving science fair entrant, Mr. Ivey relishes the opportunity to demonstrate. TriSenx's chairman and chief executive leaps to his computer and launches the Windows-based application. Ivey loads the company's Web page -- "Get ready, because the future is so close you can taste it" -- and clicks to the demo section.
First up, a strawberry. A sheet of gold adhesive paper slides into the FirstSENX machine and emerges with the imprimatur of a strawberry.
"Here you go. Smell this," he offers.
It smells like a strawberry. He prints another and licks it. Next he prints a cappuccino, and then a rather harsh perfume.
The smells are adhered to a fiber cardstock paper and, in coming months, to a communion-like wafer that would allow people to taste a particular flavor.
Mr. Ivey anticipates a day when smells become as common as the audio already found on countless personal and commercial Web pages.But not everyone is so sure the audio analogy works -- at least right now.
"Unless they can drive the cost down to where it comes bundled with your new computer, then it might become popular," said Ullas Naik, an e-commerce analyst with FAC Equities in Boston. But longer-term, five years or more, online scent could become popular if Web designers and computer makers push it, Mr. Naik said.
TriSenx's smells come from water-based chemicals, and all are generic, "to keep it simple," Mr. Ivey says. The device can simulate the interior odor of a brand new car. But it cannot reproduce the precise aroma of, for example, a 2000 Nissan Altima.
"We're not into the protein level of molecule modeling. We think that will run into a problem later when it comes to proprietary issues, and it gets expensive," he said.
TriSenx's $398 FirstSENX device is expected to ship the last week of April. Ivey said the company has received about 50 orders so far.
Several other firms hope to develop the field of online smell into the next big thing.
DigiScents Inc., based in Oakland, Calif., is working on a smell box it calls iSmell, a device that reads a digital scent file from a Web site, creates a smell from a "palette" of 128 chemicals stored in a cartridge, and then wafts into the air with a small fan.
DigiScents spokesman David Libby says the company anticipates a not-too-distant day when watching a movie comes with not only theater-quality sound but smells distinct to the scenes.
"Imagine watching The Wizard of Oz and you smell the poppies as they're walking through the poppy field," he said.
AromaJet.com, a suburban Dallas company, has a device called Pinoke that dispenses smells coinciding with a player's action in a video game.