(Wired) A new gadget designed to help people shape their nightly slumber means dreams could be full of whatever the sleeper desires — whether it be a date with a movie star or winning gold at the Olympics. Standing 35 inches tall, the supposed nightmare banisher has been dubbed Yumemi Kobo — Japanese for “dream workshop” — by its creator, Japanese toymaker Takara.

The dream machine comes equipped with a voice recorder, array of lights, picture frame, fragrance dispenser, selection of internally stored background music, two speakers and a timer.

Working in conjunction, these components allow users to design their dreams through multisensory stimuli of scents, sounds and more.

“The general concept is you’d sit down with it for a few minutes before you go to bed,” said Peter Harwood, senior marketing manager with Takara USA. Once this is done, he added, you are ready to visit Venice in your dreams.

First, users attach a photograph or image of a desired dream to the Yumemi Kobo.

Then the hopeful dreamers concentrate on the image, playing out the desired dream in their head while making a voice recording of key words describing their fantasy.

Next they insert one of the dream machine’s scents in the fragrance dispenser and select accompanying music from the tracks offered in the device’s database.

“These (selections) are based on research done by sleep researchers who have an idea of what fragrances and music relaxes people the most — so there is a logic behind the selections,” Harwood said. “For most, listening to Guns N’ Roses is not the way to go.”

Now the dreamers are ready to hit the sack. They turn on the dream machine, and it starts to lull them to sleep with soft lights and serenades.

During the next eight hours, while the Yumemi Kobo’s owner snoozes, the device is set to activate periodically in accordance with the user’s REM sleep, the period associated with dreaming, during which the sleeper’s eyeballs jerk rapidly.

“REM occurs for around an hour, an hour and a half. The machine estimates when most people achieve this,” Harwood said.

This is when the dream controller is at its most active. It plays the selected music, releases the fragrance and repeats the recorded phrase. All are geared to trigger the desired dream in the sleeping subject.

Despite all this activity, Harwood said, the would-be dreamer doesn’t lose any beauty sleep.

“You would think it would be distracting, but the key is that it operates on a timer that coincides with REM. It basically doesn’t do anything until you are in REM phase, and then these things are very low-key,” he said.

Eight hours later, sleep time is over. The dream machine gently awakens its owner with dim lights and soft music to avoid startling the sleeper and causing the dream to be forgotten.

“The way it’s set up right now, it goes through a cycle of music and scents that build in a crescendo. Then it brings you out of your dream in a way you don’t forget your dream — there is no cold-water reality, but a gentle awakening,” Harwood said.

Craig Webb, executive director of The Dreams Foundation, a group that promotes sleep research, said it is possible to guide the content of dreams. But he saw a drawback to the Yumemi Kobo.

“It could be an interesting toy, but one big limitation is there is no biofeedback with it — it can’t tell when REM occurs,” Webb said. “There’s a ballpark time when REM occurs, but it can vary widely depending on how much exercise or how much rest you’ve had.”

Webb also voiced concern that the machine requires users to place too much power in technology.

“You are putting your trust in something that is affecting natural body cycles … this can trigger some upsetting results and cause night terrors. This may lead to you waking up screaming and throwing the thing across the room,” he said.

Psychologist and dream expert Veronica Tonay, lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz, also gave the Yumemi Kobo concept a mixed review.

“It could encourage people’s creativity,” she said. However, she noted, “You could achieve a lot of these results by yourself without having to use the props.”

So far, Takara has tested its dream machine only on employees. The inventors admit they have some tweaking to do before the device hits the market.

“It has worked on some, and (for) others it didn’t — it’s very much a research project right now,” Harwood said.

But Harwood said the preliminary results have been very promising, indicating that the gadget can greatly improve the odds of experiencing a desired dream.

Yumemi Kobo will launch in Japan in May 2004 at a cost of 14,800 yen ($140). Takara expects the dream machine to hit American stores in early 2005.