Deceptive Jail

Webcams give the delusion of transporting a viewer to a new location by displaying a site in real-time with high-resolution and continuous motion.  When examining a site in person, however, a viewer expects to smell the surrounding airs.  Unfortunately, webcams by themselves do not provide this immersive experience.  As a means to both tackle this challenge of heightening sensations with webcams and devise a system to fool criminals, I built a small jail cell that included both visual and olfactory perceptions.  The intent is to constantly change a prisoner’s apparent location, making the prisoner disoriented and confused.  Guards may move the prisoner from the cell to a motion simulator for a multitude of hours to trick that prisoner into believing that travel is occurring.  Under fatigue, prisoners are more likely to be cooperative and divulge information concerning the truths about crimes they committed or the whereabouts/upcoming plans of their criminal partners.  As a last measure, guards could use a webcam of the prisoner’s home, accompanied with appropriate smells, and say to the prisoner, “Tell us everything you know, and we’ll let you go home.”  Having tricked the prisoner into believing the deception, the presentation of the homeland will evoke powerful emotions that will further break that prisoner down.

The jail was built out of nine jigsaw-shaped exercise mats that fitted together nicely on the sides.  A picture of the constructed cell is shown below.  Two holes were cut on one of the mats.  The larger hole was a 25 cm by 15 cm rectangle, sized for my computer screen, in which the webcam would be shown.  To give the appearance of a jail, I cut out some of the mat material and made three short bars and spread these out over this viewing window.  The smaller hole was a thin 16 cm by 3 cm rectangle for the odors to travel through.  Additionally, I positioned a small wooden dowel rod for support on the top mat and also taped down some of the outside connected sections with silver duct tape to prohibit the mats from sliding apart.


To funnel scents through the small hole, I heated water with a Vick’s humidifier and placed several drops of fragrances in the humidifier’s basin.  Steam then rose from the humidifier with the odor of the fragrance.  I was fortunate to find a tall metal piece in the garbage, which was employed as a funnel.  I connected a section of a pizza box to the bottom of this funnel with silver duct tape, applying tape across the entire section to shield it from the moist steam of the humidifier.  A hole the size of the humidifier’s opening was cut out on the pizza box section for the steam to exit.  The system was constructed in the room seen in the above picture.  The measurements were taken such that the humidifier rested on the remainder of the pizza box to prop the funnel up high enough to reach the small hole, as shown below.


For completeness, the entire system, both the jail cell on the left and the humidifier/funnel sub-system on the right, is pictured below.  Notice also the laptop computer with its screen flipped around slid against the viewing window to display the webcam.

Whole System

Two different sites were tested with appropriate fragrances; one was a forest scene and the other was an ocean scene.  The link for the webcam of the forest scene is:

The link for the webcam of the ocean scene is:

For the forest scene, a Eucalyptus fragrance was placed in the humidifier’s basin.  For the ocean scene, the fragrance added was Waikiki Beach Coconut.  The picture below shows the two fragrances; Eucalyptus is on the left and Waikiki Beach Coconut is on the right.


The next two pictures show webcam images inside the jail of the two scenes; the first is the forest scene and the second is the ocean scene.

Forest scene

Ocean scene

Additionally, I took video recordings of the process of applying the fragrances and watching the webcams.  The forest webcam is fairly static, but while watching the ocean webcam, one can clearly see the waves moving continuously.  The first video below shows the forest scene and the second shows the ocean scene.



A large challenge while testing my system was the excessive moisture buildup from the humidifier, especially around my laptop.  This issue was remedied by applying paper towels and aluminum foil under my laptop for protection.  However, the wall of the cell became sufficiently drenched after about ten minutes of operation.  One possible improvement of the system is to concoct my own fragrances to make the smells as realistic as possible.  For example, for the scent associated with the ocean, I might blend together the juices from canned tuna fish together with salt and sand.  It would certainly prove quite torturous for a prisoner to suffer through this magical potion.