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BBC Technology

You could soon be able to spice up your e-mails with your favourite perfume. UK net provider Telewest Broadband is testing a system to let people to send aromatic e-mails over the internet.

It has developed a kind of hi-tech air freshener that plugs into a PC and sprays a smell linked to the message. Telewest say it could be used by supermarkets to tempt people with the smell of fresh bread or by holiday companies seeking to stir up images of sun-kissed beaches.

"This could bring an extra whiff of realism to the internet," said 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."

The technology behind the idea was originally developed by US company Trisenx. Scientists at Telewest's labs in Woking, Surrey, have built on that research to come up with the idea of a "scent dome".

The dome comes with a cartridge containing 20 basic aromas, which can be combined to produce up to 60 different smells.

This has been talked about for some while but is the first I've seen of a serious implementation. Combinations aren't great - yet. 60 options from 20 originals doesn't compare too well with "millions of colours" on my printer using just Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black!

The real market is in networked games, action movies and immersive environments (think cordite, burning rubber, etc) before the technology is good enough for "shopping" experiences. The smells don't have to be perfect if they are used in a multi-media/multi-sensory environment. Immersive Headsets with Bluetooth/wireless will help.

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