Our world has scratch-and-sniff books and the occasional Braille menu, so it only makes sense to create a device that helps visually-impaired restaurant patrons order by emitting specific food smells. A new conceptual design called an Odor Menu takes a step in that scented direction.

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As described in the online design magazine Yankodesign.com, the disk-shaped handheld Odor Menu would be made using technology called electric active plastic — sometimes called electroactive polymer — or EAP. I'd never heard of EAP before, but my understanding after reading about this phone is that it's a plastic interface with the ability to dynamically display Braille.

The smell function would come from "olfactory biochips" that would simulate each dish's scent and emit it for the visually-impaired user. Since this is still just an idea, the designers don't describe exactly how those scents would be replicated and then separately contained in the device so that pressing a button to release would work.

If such a device were to malfunction, blind diners could end up smelling something akin to the restaurant's entire kitchen. That's not necessarily bad, but it wouldn't be helpful either.

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Yankodesign's Radhika Seth listed the Odor Menu's designers as Liu Jie, Wen Ho and Liu Dongming, but I had trouble identifying them any more specifically than that when trying to get more information online about who they are to give them full credit for such a compelling idea. Designers, whoever you really are, good thinking.

As soon as something like this becomes a reality, non-visually impaired patrons will want to get a helpful whiff, too. Or the chef could just come out with a bunch of samples to put under everyone's noses.

Photos: How the conceptual Odor Menu would work. Credit: Liu Jie, Wen Ho and Liu Dongming via Yankodesign.com