Helping Astronauts to Experience Home in Space

Eight Strangers Come Together to Create Senti8 at NASA’s International SpaceApps Challenge

Sighing in disappointment, I closed my laptop. I was so certain that we would get the “Best Use of Hardware” prize. We had everything—a great prototype, a crisp pitch, a strong social media presence, and a team that worked really well together.

Even though we didn’t get the prize, I thought, ‘It was worth it. My team was amazing—I even found female role models I could aspire to be like! It doesn’t matter that we didn’t win. The journey and the friendships I made are the most important things to take away from this experience.’

“…is Senti8!”

Startled from my thoughts, I stared at the judge who had just announced our name. Exchanging looks of surprise with my teammates, we proceeded to stand up and join the cacophonic crowd celebrating our global nomination.

Amidst the high-pitched squealing, delighted whooping, and looks of startled wonder, I thought, ‘I can’t believe it. We won.’

Meeting SpaceApps veteran, Leslie

36 Hours Ago

On a semi-warm Saturday morning, I woke up bright and early, prepared for a weekend of sleep deprivation and fun. I was geared up for NASA’s International SpaceApps Challenge, where participants had to collaborate on a project that would address a problem within these five themes: Earth Watch, Technology in Space, Human Spaceflight, Robotics and Asteroids. My inner space geek was very excited, while another part of me advanced with trepidation. I knew I didn’t have a strong technical background—what if I didn’t have anything to do?

Still, I carried on with unbrimming positivity, and once I made it to my destination, I took in my surroundings. I had come fairly early, and people were still in the process of slowly trickling in. Taking a deep breath, I made my way to the kitchen area, looking for conversation and a project to be part of.

After grabbing a bagel, I encountered an individual wearing a NASA t-shirt. Thinking that she was a co-organizer for the event, I introduced myself, to which she puzzling said:

“No, I’m not the one you should talk to. I don’t know much about this event. Here—talk to Leslie.”

And so I met Leslie, winner of NASA SpaceApps in Philly the previous year.

Meeting the astronaut, Doug Wheelock

1.5 Hours Later

If someone told me over six years ago that I would meet an astronaut and participate in a NASA challenge with strangers in the future, I wouldn’t have believed them.

As I squeezed into the couch for a photo with the astronaut, Doug Wheelock and a few of my female team members, I mentally pinched myself. Was this really happening?

After our picture, Leslie asked Doug what he missed the most when he was in space. Do you know what he said?

“Believe it or not, just the smell of Earth… you know, soil.”

Armed with that knowledge, we knew what we would create this weekend: a piece of wearable technology that would allow astronauts like Doug Wheelock to experience the smells they miss from home.

After all, isn’t our sense of smell very important to remember places we’ve visited, the people we love, and the things we enjoy? Out of all the senses, smell has the strongest link to memory.

Thus, Senti8—a play on “scent” sparking “sentimental” memories—was born.

Our logo

The Next Few Hours

Our team was eight strong, coming together from three different states. In addition to exchanging our abilities, we also did considerable research for our product. Taking into consideration issues such as gravity and Section 508 Compliance, we realized that we could expand our target market to include Earth dwellers and even aliens.

In the future, maybe people on Earth would like to know what space smells like, or they might want to record smells from a particular “scentimental” vacation spot on Earth. And perhaps ET’s will want to know what unique scents are widespread on our beautiful planet.

So, you might be wondering—what scents do we have available? Currently, we offer Nature, Food, Earth, Home, and Custom scents. You can buy custom scents through our Scent Mall, which can come from suggestions by other customers or future partnerships with essential oil companies. We envision that in the future, with Senti8, you can “Google” your favorite scent.

Senti8 scent band prototype

The Next Morning

It was amazing what we did in less than 36 hours. From what I understand, we built our prototype leveraging Arduino, 3D printing, and hacking an e-cigarette. We actually assembled two “scent bands,” and a team-member created an app to connect the two bands together. Imagine being able to send a scent to a loved one to spark a common memory while you are away.

While my technical expertise is mostly in HTML & CSS, I was able to contribute by documenting Senti8's processes on Tumblr, building our social media presence, modeling for pictures with the prototype, and working on our pitch for the final presentation. Coming up with a pitch that has a compelling story is a strength of mine, and I’m glad that my team trusted me to take care of it while they did their last-minute tinkering with the prototype.

So, with a prototype, presentation, an app, and even a video on hand, we were ready to showcase our masterpiece for judging. Of course, the only snag was the e-cigarette breaking, but fortunately, we had everything in place to show how it would work.

Needless to say, we were really excited at having a shot at winning the “Best Use of Hardware” category.

Getting ready to pitch

That Same Afternoon…Pitch Time!

I stared worriedly around the room. Judging had started around 2PM, but it was nearing 5:30PM. The energy around the room was low, and we still hadn’t presented our product yet.

Feeling restless and impatient for Senti8's turn, I had settled for observing the other teams, taking note their presentation strengths and weaknesses. As we made it towards the end, I realized that when we went up to present, we had to get people excited and amp up the energy in the room.

As soon as our name was called, someone in the crowd started chanting, “Senti8! Senti8!” By the time we went up on the stage, the atmosphere was abuzz with excitement. We even heard surprised chuckles when Leslie handed out samples of dirt scent to the judges.

Without a doubt, the crowd loved our story, and one of the judges even asked when she could buy stock from us. That made me even more hopeful that we had a chance to win.

So, when they announced the 5 winners, and Senti8 wasn’t named for the “Best Use of Hardware” category, I was disappointed. I could have sworn that we were going to win…

But then came the surprise.

“…is Senti8!”

To our shock and amazement, we were announced as one of the two global nominees. Senti8 won and was going to compete globally for “Best Use of Hardware!”

Our next task? Submitting a 30-second pitch video by the following Sunday to be considered for international judging.

Ah, Senti8!

One Week Later

It’s been less than a day since we submitted our 30-second video. No matter what happens, I’m glad I had a chance to work with such an amazing team. It was incredible to see the talent, persistence, and plain brilliance unravel in the days we worked together.

And before I forget—here’s our 30-second video for your enjoyment. We hope you find it #scentimental.

Senti8, because smell is the next frontier.
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