Robotics and AI

In search of lost perfumes: a new project explores the heritage of smells of Europe

20 November 2020 | Written by La redazione

ODEUROPA will find references to smells and scents in literature and historical paintings using cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques.

A new 2.8 million euro international research project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 program, will capture the smells of Europe that are part of our cultural heritage. ODEUROPA. Negotiating olfactory and sensory experiences in fruition and research on cultural heritage is the first European initiative to use artificial intelligence (AI) to study the importance of perfumes and smell and to discover how smells have shaped our communities and traditions.


Important smells. “Smells shape our experience of the world, but we have very little sensory information from the past,” explained Inger Leemans, ODEUROPA project manager and professor of cultural history at VU University and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences Humanities Cluster ( KNAW -HuC). “ODEUROPA will immerse itself in the collections of digital heritage to discover the key smells of Europe and the stories they bring with them, and then bring them back to today’s noses”.


ODEUROPA will find references to smells such as scents that fight disease, tobacco or the stench of industrialization in literature and historical paintings using cutting-edge artificial intelligence techniques. We want to teach computers to see a smell, ”explains Peter Bell, professor of digital humanities at FAU, and part of the team that uses machine learning and machine vision to train computers to analyze scented objects and olfactory information in historical images. .


A computer nose. They will work with computational linguistics experts from the Bruno Kessler Foundation in Trento, led by researcher Sara Tonelli who coordinates the research group in Digital Humanities: “Our goal is to develop a ‘computer nose’ capable of tracing smells and experiences olfactory in digital texts over a period of four centuries and in seven languages, obviously including Italian. For this we will develop artificial intelligence techniques based on deep learning, in order to understand the evolution of sensory language, and the emotions connected to it “.

The final result? A virtual archive of smells and their meaning will be created, created by experts in the semantic web and cultural historians, and made available to all. Additionally, some of the historic perfumes will be brought back to life by heritage scientists and perfumers and shared with museum visitors at a series of public events over the next three years.

The ODEUROPA team is an international consortium with expertise in history, art history, computational linguistics, semantic web, computer vision, heritage sciences and chemistry.

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