An internet of smells was Google’s idea of an April Fool’s prank five years ago. Now, the idea may be coming to reality. A team of researchers at the Imagineering Institute in Malaysia have announced that they have designed a new concept for smelling digital content.

Kasun Karunanayaka, a senior research fellow at the institute, and his team have developed a way of electrically stimulating the nasal passages to create a scent that wasn’t really there. Electrodes placed in the nostrils transmit varying amounts and frequencies of the electrical currents to evoke different smells.

In the initial proof-of-concept experiments, the participants mostly reported perceiving odors they described as fragrant or chemical. In time, the technology could be used for applications such as smelling restaurant menu items or a bouquet of flowers from a florist.

The research team hopes to make the electrodes smaller and more flexible to be more comfortable for the wearer. Some of the participants in the trial found the experiment so uncomfortable that they quit after one session. The researchers are also looking at ways to stimulate the brain directly, so no invasive nasal electrodes would be required.

The concept of communicating smell is not something new. Companies involved in virtual reality or movie making have been exploring incorporating smells into their products. However, most of these use chemical cartridges that attach to devices, mixing the chemicals to create different scents.

The next step for Karunanayaka and team is to create a database of different patterns of nasal stimulation for specific smells. Some smells may be linked specifically to certain stimulation parameters and recreating those parameters should reliably recreate the smell. The team will also need to explore whether there are differences based on age, gender, or general human anatomy that would prevent the nasal stimulation from resulting in the same smell for everyone.