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Scentmatic's KAORIUM at LDF 2023 explores language and emotion in fragrance selection

Discover how innovation in scent exploration intertwines with the language of emotion, in this exhibition by SCENTMATIC at Cromwell Place as part of London Design Festival 2023.

by Ayesha AdonaisPublished on : Sep 19, 2023

Have you ever stood at the threshold of a scent, struggling to put its magic into words? In the realm of sensory experiences, few are as evocative and elusive as that of fragrance. What happens when scent, language, and AI unite to transform the retail experience into an immersive sensory exploration?

KAORIUM by SCENTMATIC, currently exhibiting at Cromwell Place for the London Design Festival 2023 until September 24, invites us to reimagine olfactory selection. We explored the intricacies of scent and delved into KAORIUM's mission to redefine how we experience, express, and select fragrances. Thoughtfully guided by an expert host, participants begin their interactive journey by choosing a word that describes their mood. Then, directed to interact with the touchscreen, a selection of scents is highlighted. Participants smell the fragrance and select the word that resonates. It is a subtle aromatic experience, totally unreminiscent of a typical perfume counter, providing a more intimate and engaging experience. This innovative approach taps into scents' emotional, sensory, and linguistic aspects, inviting you to articulate your connection with each aroma.

Kaorium is being used by a customer, guided by a host | Kaorium by Scentmatic | London Design Festival 2023 | STIRworld
KAORIUM is being used by a customer, guided by a host Image: Courtesy of SCENTMATIC

With each selection, you delve deeper into the olfactory immersion by refining your preferences. This tactile and experiential journey culminates in defining your choice, resulting in a fragrance that aligns with mood and scent preferences—finally, presenting you with an AI-written poem on screen that surprisingly resonates with feelings expressed about the selected fragrance—providing a unique way to discover and choose a scent.

KAORIUM is presented as part of the London Design Festival | Kaorium by Scentmatic | London Design Festival 2023 | STIRworld
KAORIUM is presented as part of the London Design Festival Image: Courtesy of SCENTMATIC

In a conversation with STIR, Toshiharu Kurisu, the CEO of SCENTMATIC, discussed how KAORIUM’s fusion of fragrance, artificial intelligence, and design is revolutionising the Japanese retail industry and the broader potential and societal implications for this innovation.

Ayesha Adonais: Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind KAORIUM and how it came to be? What led to the development of this unique approach to fragrance exploration?

Toshiharu Kurisu: First, choosing a scent or fragrance is difficult for most consumers. To solve this, we came up with various areas, and one of the areas was a multimodal experience.

You might feel an abstract, vague impression when you see a picture, like a Van Gogh in a museum. Versus a picture and word experience like Manga. The experience of reading Manga or just seeing the images is different. We can feel a more expansive experience with words, like listening to Classical music versus hearing a song with music and words.

Kaorium and immersive screen with word choices at the London Design Festival at Cromwell Place | Kaorium by Scentmatic | London Design Festival 2023 | STIRworld
KAORIUM and immersive screen with word choices at the London Design Festival at Cromwell Place Image: Courtesy of SCENTMATIC

Words and language expand the five sensory experiences. When you smell a scent, most of the experience is vague, so adding words and language to the scent experience provides a more expansive experience, so that is why we developed KAORIUM.

KAORIUM uses how people feel about the scent. We collect how people feel with words. Our data is a sensory evaluation. We collect data on how people feel, and based on this raw data, we put the data into the AI with a vast amount of brand experience from the internet and retail so that this AI can express scent in words.

Ayesha: How do you narrow down your selection of words? What is the process for that data collection?

Toshiharu: We have several ways to collect how people feel. The first way is to monitor more than 5100 people and collect how they feel. The second way is to collaborate with cosmetic companies and brands and input this data into our AI. Our AI can also analyse how people feel about their chosen selection with this device. Each time used, the data pool expands.

Ayesha: How do you capture word gaps? Or missing words?

Toshiharu: Currently, we cannot capture any words different from those on screen. We may not have the exact word choice, but we have similar words. Our pre-selection list contains a few hundred vocabularies, which is almost limitless. One of the reasons we are demonstrating KAORIUM at the London Design Festival is to collect data and improve our AI system in English.

KAORIUM by SCENTMATIC decodes the enigmatic world of scents to let people discover new fragrances through language Video: Courtesy of STIR

Ayesha: AI is a vast umbrella term. Can you elaborate on what type of AI you use for this experience?

Toshiharu: Natural Language Processing technology (NLP), like ChatGPT, also uses NLP. We have tons of data on the similarity of words; our AI system knows similar words. This can lead to an exploratory experience when you see the results of KAORIUM; some of these you might be aware of, and others you may not, the way we calculate the similarities based on the NLP technology.

Ayesha: In attempting to make a fragrance and language connection, are you not restricting how a user would be able to interpret that smell if they did not have to use words?

Toshiharu: That is why we show various words. KAORIUM helps users describe how they feel. Currently, we allow users to choose one word, but we could allow users to select several words. Most people have difficulty expressing their feelings in words, so this is a tool to help articulate how they feel.

The same fragrance can smell different to all of us. It is always limiting when trying to capture a sense, like a smell, through a medium, like a language, because not every human emotion can be said in words.

Ayesha: Why work with scent?

Toshiharu: When we think about the five senses, the visual and audio are quite common experiences from a technological point of view; it is quite mature. For example, the technology in a smartphone is visual and audio. The use of scent is still immature compared to the other four senses. Olfactory has great cognitive diversity. There is still so much research to be done.

Kaorium and fragrance | Kaorium by Scentmatic | London Design Festival 2023 | STIRworld
KAORIUM and fragrance Image: Courtesy of STIR

Ayesha: It's fascinating to hear about KAORIUM's impact on social initiatives, such as integrating scent into educational programs and medical clinics. Could you share some specific examples of how these collaborations have positively affected communities or individuals?

Toshiharu: Firstly, the primary use of KAORIUM is a retail and shopping experience. However, doctors in a medical clinic for mental health in Tokyo use KAORIUM because it provides a relaxing experience for patients. The patients use KAORIUM to select a scent that offers them a calming experience. For example, patients suffering from anxiety can use the scent chosen at the clinic when they return home if they feel anxious.

KAORIUM is used in education with children to expand their imagination as an olfactory experience. We provide a unique program for elementary school children for 60 to 90 minutes as a single course. In the programme, children smell a scent, for example, orange. We ask them to imagine whatever they want, just following their nature. We ask them what colour they imagine; it doesn’t matter whether it smells orange or not. Some children imagine purple from an orange scent or a dog or cat sleeping under a tree. Through this kind of interaction with children, they can gradually express their own perceptions. They eventually make a short novel, a very lovely story, by extracting those elements individually.

The course has expanded to include high-school students, although adults could enjoy it. It is so amazing to see how the children react to the course. Every time we deliver the programme, the teachers and parents are surprised to see how well the children respond. Only some people are good at writing; however, everyone writes a lovely story in our programme. There’s no correct answer, no good or bad; it is all about how they feel, and everyone knows how they feel. The programme has occurred in schools all across Japan for almost four years.

Ayesha: Do you collect personal data?

Toshiharu: We don’t collect people's personal data, age, or gender due to privacy. In the future, we would like to collect data on differences that would benefit scent or fragrance creation or help create relaxing experiences.

KAORIUM experience guides people towards finding the scents they desire through a sensory journey of smelling, reflection, and language | Kaorium by Scentmatic | London Design Festival 2023 | STIRworld
KAORIUM experience guides people towards finding the scents they desire through a sensory journey of smelling, reflection, and language Image: Courtesy of STIR

Ayesha: Are you collecting any data on regional differences?

Toshiharu: We could segment our data since we will collect data from London during London Design Week. If we launch KAORIUM in France, we can continue to analyse and segment the data to see how different people feel about specific scents.

Ayesha: During COVID, it became evident the importance of smell to taste food. How do the olfactory senses engage with visual senses? Is that something you are working on?

Toshiharu: We do not connect visual sensory data to our data. As you mentioned, the olfactory is related to food. We launched KAORIUM for Sake service in Japan. As popular as sake is in Japan, most people still find it hard to describe how sake fits my taste. Choosing sake is difficult; customers select words they feel describe sake to train the AI, allowing it to be continuously updated. It has been adopted by more than 300 restaurants and shops. KAORIUM is used to express sake taste.

Ayesha: What other uses do you see for KAORIUM?

Toshiharu: We can use it for wine, whiskey, chocolate, tea, and other flavoured things. Our client used the data gathered in our Sake project to label a shelf with the coolest sake, directly impacting sales. We are now developing data systems to help our clients better use this data, and we are expanding across other countries. We will continue to launch KAORIUM for wine, whiskey, chocolates, and so on.

Ayesha: The partnership with the University of Tokyo for scientific validation of KAORIUM's unique experience is intriguing. Please provide some insights into the potential scientific benefits and discoveries that may emerge from this collaboration.

Toshiharu: They are currently drafting the article, so we cannot disclose details. When using KAORIUM, brain activity is totally different. We watched how the brain reacts, by just smelling and using KAORIUM. We have measured the pathways that were activated. It is already known from previous research that smelling something and reading something has a totally different impact. Smelling activates the brain's right hemisphere, and reading activates your left hemisphere. Doing them simultaneously can activate both hemispheres. We did further fMRI studies and found more accurate, detailed, and unique brain reactions when using KAORIUM.

Ayesha: As KAORIUM continues to expand its reach and impact, what do you see as the future of sensory perception and fragrance exploration for consumers and broader societal contexts?

Toshiharu: When we think of the history of the computer, it was trying to emulate people's transactions, and now it tries to emulate how people speak. Image recognition emulates sight, computers can now emulate speech like chat GTP, and our data will be used so computers can be used to understand smell.

Experience KOARIUM’s Experiential Sensory perceptions and language explorations at the London Design Festival until September 24 at 4 Cromwell Place, South Kensington, London SW7 2JE.

London Design Festival is back! In its 21st edition, the faceted fair adorns London with installations, exhibitions, and talks from major design districts including Shoreditch Design Triangle, Greenwich Peninsula, Brompton, Design London, Clerkenwell Design Trail, Mayfair, Bankside, King's Cross, and more. Click here to explore STIR’s highlights from the London Design Festival 2023.

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