Are you ready for virtual taste?

January 3, 2014 by Amara D. Angelica
nus_digital taste

Digital taste experimental setup (credit: NUS)

We’ve talked about robot burger makers. How about virtual tasting, so you could sample your burger before buying it, without grossing everyone out — even taste a pizza before having it delivered?

A National University of Singapore (NUS) researcher has taken an early step in that direction. Dr. Nimesha Ranasinghe has invented a digital gadget that can recreate the taste of virtual food and drinks.

It uses electrical and thermal stimulation of the tip of your tongue, using tiny currents sent to an electrode by a “digital taste synthesizer.”

It can produce salty, sweet, sour, and bitter sensations by combining different levels of electrical currents and varying the temperature of the electrode (results vary by individuals).

But wait, there’s more! The researchers have also invented … wait for it …. “taste over IP” for instant taste messaging.

Any practical uses?

Well, um, let’s see, here’s one Ranasinghe suggested: a video game reward system based on taste sensations. If you reach a level successfully, you get a sweet or minty dose as a buff; fail and you get a bitter taste as a nerf.

Or diabetics could use the device for a taste of sweetness without affecting their blood sugar levels, and cancer patients could improve their dulled sense of taste during chemotherapy, he suggests.

But smell and texture also play key roles in taste. They’re working on that next.

Of course, other gaming events could be represented as tastes. And how about Taste-O-Vision to enhance restaurant scenes in movies, combined with Smell-O-Vision? Or not.