Ever seen an Instagram food photo so mouth-watering that it tempts you to lick your computer screen? Turns out that may not be such a far-fetched idea. Researchers at the University of Singapore have actually developed a digital device, called the Digital Taste Interface, that uses electrodes to simulate different tastes on your tongue. This could eventually lead to wholly electronic tasting, no real food required.
The creators walk us through the idea behind Digital Taste Interface in the video below:
“Being able to digitally simulate taste sensations will enable lots of possibilities for digital taste interactions such as taste communication, food and flavor enhancements, virtual reality and total immersion,” said Nimesha Ranasinghe, the lead researcher on this project, who was interviewed via email.
The Digital Taste Interface seems pretty simple. All you have to do is touch your tongue to an electrode — which, at this point in the research, just looks like a square of metal. The researchers vary the electrical current and temperature of the electrode and voilà, your tongue is tricked into tasting.
So far, they have managed to recreate sour, salty, bitter, minty, spicy, and sweet sensations. Sour, salty, and bitter tastes were simulated with electrical stimulation, while minty, spicy, and sweet were achieved with thermal. The tastes that were most successfully evoked were sour and salty, while bitter and sweet were more difficult. Also, the settings that recreated these tastes varied by person.
There are many possible uses for this device and they run the gamut from mundane to life-changing:
â–º Technology like this could be used as a reward system for computer and video games; you lose the game, you get a bitter taste.
â–º Ranasinghe also says the Digital Taste Interface could get people moving beyond just visual and auditory digital interactions, someday sending taste messages in addition to texts, photos, and videos.
â–º Eventually, this type of machine may even improve our health. It could help diabetics curb sugar cravings or aid people undergoing chemotherapy in improving their impaired sense of taste.
This project has only just begun and has a long way yet to go. So far, the Digital Taste Interface is unable to recreate the complex flavors, textures, and smells of actual food in this form of digital taste, which means it’s still a far cry from the real deal. Good thing, then, that Ranasinghe and his team are trying to figure out how to simulate all of that, too.