Virtual Synesthesia Challenge | NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Virtual Synesthesia Challenge


Virtual Synesthesia Challenge

Application Deadline: Sunday, November 5, 2023 11:59 pm ET

Olfaction, or the sense of smell, is considered one of the strongest and most complex of the senses.  It conjures the deepest emotions and triggers the most memories. 

CHANEL has always desired to make someone dream, through all of their senses. 

Perfumiers have long used sound, visuals, touch and texture to evoke smell, through their advertisements and packaging, so are familiar with evoking smell where there is none. Using other senses to convey scent is the practice of synesthesia, which is something that we are very interested in exploring and helping others who are also passionate about this field.

How can one translate smell digitally? How does smell work in digital worlds? And to what purpose? 

In collaboration with the Global Innovation Practice at CHANEL, the NYC Media Lab (NYCML) at NYU Tandon School of Engineering is launching the Virtual Synesthesia Challenge, which is designed to identify and explore creative, cutting-edge concepts related to the sense of smell and synesthesia in the virtual world.

Accordingly, CHANEL and NYCML are seeking NYU students (current and alumni), startups and university teams that are leveraging emerging technologies including artificial intelligence to design and build products and projects that offer novel solutions to answer the question: How can one leverage synesthesia to tell a story in bold and new ways?

It is not necessary for these projects to have been originally developed for the luxury industry, and in fact, it may be preferable that they have not been. In all cases, teams should be able to articulate a clear and direct application to this challenge to be explored during the nine-week program (Fall 2023 and Winter 2024).

This program is oriented around pitching, building, and either researching or prototyping over the course of the nine-week program in close collaboration with the CHANEL and NYCML.  Therefore, each team should be able to clearly articulate a concrete plan to create something new (e.g., a prototype/pilot, a product feature) that can be accomplished by the end of the program.

Register for one of our virtual info sessions to learn more.

November 1 RSVP

November 3 RSVP

Additional Program Information

Approximately 5-6 student, startup and/or university-affiliated teams will be selected to join the challenge from those that apply.  The teams will work with CHANEL, NYCML mentors and guests working in different applications of olfaction and synesthesia for a total of nine weeks, in two phases.  The first phase will run from mid November to mid December 2023.  Teams will then break for a few weeks in order to allow them to advance their thinking and projects. The teams will reconvene in February 2024 for another four weeks at which point, the teams will make a presentation of their solution.  

In this second phase, CHANEL may choose to provide access to its visual, aural, and text archives as a data set on which the teams may refine and focus their products.

In order to facilitate collaboration and mentorship, concepts and prototypes must be shareable during video conference sessions. The teams will meet in person weekly at a predetermined time that accommodates the schedules of CHANEL who will be dialing in from Paris.  

Winning teams that are based in NYC will have the benefit of being able to work from Tandon @ the Yard, NYU Tandon’s cutting edge emerging media playground, including use of its technologies including OW Smell Digital, with non-local teams (if any) dialing in via conference call. 

Teams will meet weekly with NYCML and CHANEL team members to present progress and receive feedback in a cohort-based setting. The feedback will focus on experiments and product development in emerging tech, customer discovery, and market validation, among others. 

NYCML will also curate a list of guest speakers from different applications and approaches to scent and synesthesia. Speakers will make presentations as well as counsel and critique teams who will present to the speakers and attending mentors. 

The program will conclude with a final presentation and demo day for the CHANEL and NYCML communities. Teams will record a short video pitch of their project, which will be included in a live presentation of their products or solutions. Presentations will include taking questions from the audience.  One team will be awarded the NYCML Innovation Award. Winners may be allowed the opportunity to utilize the Volumetric capture studios at Tandon @ the Yard free of cost as well. 

The Challenge will be led by Winslow Porter, Adjunct Professor; TREE, Forager, producer in conjunction with the NYCML leadership team. 


CHANEL is a global leader in the luxury category, in both the strength of their brand and their business results. Despite these successes, CHANEL recognized the world is changing faster today than ever before. The Global Innovation Practice at CHANEL was born in 2017 of a desire to study the transformative forces, be they cultural, economic, commercial, or technological, that could one day impact their clients and their business. The mandate is to “éclairer le chemin” for the House – providing better visibility into these forces by accelerating the House’s ability to identify and explore new opportunities.

Their work spans across CHANEL’s three divisions and five regions. They conceptualize new services, experiences, revenue streams and business models that are a step ahead of the change, and work with our internal partners to bring these innovations to life. As a small team, they embrace a culture of iterative learning and strive for progression over perfection – working nimbly and employing low-cost experiments that garner maximum learning.

Past Programs

Synthetic Media Challenge

In 2021, NYC Media Lab and CHANEL conducted a semester-long project with graduate student teams exploring how emerging synthetic media production might impact the future of storytelling, giving form and expression to early-stage concepts.

The participating teams were: 

Bigotis Fabra (Irene Font Peradejordi and Victor Perez Muñoz ), Cloud Theory (Colleen Macklin, Jason Li, Emi Sato, and Anna Garbier ), “Feed” by IMUU (Weilu Ge and Kelon Cen ), GANgang (Kevin He, Nick Boss, and Paul Baumgartner), SNAP MIL (Ziv Schneider and Shirin Anlen).