BMW's Scented AC Vent Cartridges Are A Unique Way To Get That New Car Smell

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This is what happens when an OEM grabs a simple aftermarket idea and over-engineers it.

What happens when a car manufacturer grabs an affordable aftermarket gadget like a car air freshener and improves it? This intricate device from BMW will give us a good idea of what happens when engineers lay their hands on a simple air scent dispenser and make it better.

According to a new patent unearthed by CarBuzz at the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA), BMW has found a way to not only introduce a scent into the car's ventilation system but also use their new device to indicate that there is airflow out of a vent, how strong the airflow is, and in which direction the air flows. We probably won't see it on the next-generation BMW iX (or anywhere), though, for reasons that will soon become clear.


Getting into a fresh-smelling car is a nice feeling, and the right combination of scents is proven to both relax a car's occupants and improve its driver's attentiveness. This is why many manufacturers offer the option of scent diffusers built into the ventilation system, along with a variety of bottled scents to evoke certain emotions. And, if a car isn't equipped with such a diffuser, the owner could get a scent of their choice at a service station or convenience store and simply hang it from a column stalk.

What makes this BMW patent different from existing diffuser installations, and why is it better than a separate scent dispenser like a little paper pine tree? For starters, the BMW design is fitted into an air vent using a removable cartridge. This places the scent emitter directly in the airflow stream coming from the vent, improving scent distribution through the vehicle.


The BMW design also includes visual indicators of the airflow speed through the vent, and could even indicate the direction of the air stream in one of the applications mentioned in the patent application. This is accomplished by incorporating colored tendril-like fibers in the scent dispenser, which will point in the airflow direction. Because, you know, merely sensing the direction and intensity of the airflow from a vent by extending your hand is too inaccurate… Furthermore, these tendrils can be shaped to represent the scent they dispense, like grass blowing in a breeze, for example.

Another application mentioned in the patent is adaptive LED lighting in the fragrance dispenser, which can be set to display different colors depending on the temperature of the air flowing through the vent. For example, cold air can have the scent unit glow blue, and hot air can make it glow red. And as a bonus, this lighting device could be synchronized with the car's audio system to pulse in time with the music's beat.


All of which leads us back to the question: Why, though? Adding Fast and Furious-inspired LED lighting to OEM air vents has been done before (Mercedes-Benz has been doing it for at least one generation), and it's easy enough to determine the air's temperature, flow direction, and flow intensity by hand.

We'd also be willing to bet good money that a replacement scent cartridge from BMW would likely cost as much as a decade's supply of convenience-store air fresheners. Maybe this patent exists purely to demonstrate just how far OEM engineers are capable of pushing a cool idea past the point of usefulness and into the realm of gimmickry. Whatever the case may be, it's unlikely that we'll see this specific interpretation in production any time soon.


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