Popcorn is a staple of movie nights at home, but that familiar smell wafting from the microwave has arrived in a new form: an iOS dongle. To complement Pop Secret's mobile game, Poptopia, the company has created the Pop Dongle, which emits smells of popcorn butter to reward gamers, reviving the once-languishing field of smell-o-vision.
The Pop Dongle was designed by Deeplocal, a small innovation studio in Pittsburg, and the game was built by Deutsch LA. Though there will only be three of these dongles for sale, Pop Secret sent Fast Company one to try. Upon tearing apart the packaging, you can't help but notice the butter smell. Using it is simple, since all you have to do is attach the dongle, which is shaped like a giant popcorn, to the audio jack of your iPhone. Playing the game, which is reminiscent of Angry Birds in style, is also straightforward, though slightly clumsy with a giant dongle hanging off the phone.
In addition to points, the game rewards you with the smell of popcorn. Using a custom circuit board to amplify sound, an audio receiver listens for a specific audio signal embedded in the game, sending a voltage to a piezo that vaporizes popcorn-scented oil. "The more kernels you perfectly pop, the more amazing the popcorn aroma you'll smell," says the instructions on the Pop Dongle box. The smells emitted aren't overwhelming, and it can be hard to differentiate a scent reward from the dongle's default, non-gaming state, which also smells of popcorn butter, but LED indicators show its various states: on, off, emitting, charging, low battery. The smell also manages to linger on the hands after playing a few levels, but it's nothing soap and water can't take care of.
The rewards system harks back to the Digital Taste Interface, which National University of Singapore researchers developed to fool taste receptors and replicate salty, sweet, sour, and bitter sensations. The possibilities for that technology include interactive cooking demonstrations, date nights for couples in long-distance relationships, and rewards for people playing video games.
If you're hoping to try a Pop Dongle for yourself, be ready to pay up. The three dongles will be auctioned off on Ebay, with all the proceeds going to the American Red Cross. The first auction will end Dec. 14, and the remaining two will run through the end of the month.