March 18, 2008 / 3:10 AM / 11 years ago

Wasabi fire alarm a lifesaver for the deaf

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Wake up and smell the wasabi.

Japan has developed a smoke detector for deaf people that is based on the pungent smell of Japan’s spicy green horseradish, an eye-watering condiment more typically found tucked under fish in a piece of sushi.

If it detects smoke, the alarm sprays out a synthesized wasabi smell that wakes up people who might have slept through a conventional fire alarm.

Assistant professor Makoto Imai from the Shiga University of Medical Science, who built the alarm in collaboration with Seems, a company that makes perfume, says the smoke detector may save lives among the hard of hearing.

“The proportion of the elderly among fire victims was nearly 50 percent. So, the staff at Seems ... thought that the decline of hearing ability may be one of the causes for delay in noticing and getting away when a fire breaks out,” he told Reuters in an e-mail.

He said the Wasabi smoke detector was tested on 14 people, including four deaf people. Except for one person with a blocked nose, all woke up within two minutes of the smell reaching them.

Imai said trial production of the Wasabi smoke detector would be completed in a year and the product would be sold in shops within two years.

Reporting by Sophie Hardach; Editing by Rodney Joyce

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