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Simulator could let humans 'taste the internet'

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An electrode that reproduces all five of the tongue's taste components may one day allow people to 'taste' what they see on TV.
(Nimesha Ranasignhe / National University of Singapore)


It's a food blog junkie's dream come true: the ability to taste what you're seeing onscreen without any of the cost, calories or effort associated with making a dish yourself.

The concept may sound like a dream, but at the National University of Singapore, this is a reality -- a virtual reality, to be precise.

A team of scientists led by PhD research scholar Nimesha Ranasignhe has developed a digital simulator that can reproduce the taste of salty, sweet, bitter and sour food on the human tongue for the purposes of gaming, entertainment, and potentially even healthcare.

"We have found noninvasive electrical and thermal stimulation of the tip of the tongue successfully generates the primary taste sensations," said Ranasinghe to New Scientist this week, explaining that subtle changes in temperature help alter the taste experience.

"People with diabetes might be able to use the taste synthesizer to simulate sweet sensations without harming their actual blood sugar levels. Cancer patients could use it to improve or regenerate a diminished sense of taste during chemotherapy," he said.



Ranasignhe admits that while the device is still a bit clunky at the moment (tasters must hold their mouths open in order to use the simulator) he believes that one day TV viewers will be able to use this technology to taste the food they see in cooking shows.

As for the web, the potential is seemingly endless.

Ranasignhe's team is currently working on a "digital lollipop" project that lets users taste sugar for as long as they'd like to without actually consuming any. To transmit these taste messages, they've developed something called TOIP -- taste over internet protocol.

But of course, as any foodie knows, there's more to flavour than what meets the tongue.

The team is now working on adding smell and textural elements to the device.

"In a gaming environment we could come up with a new reward system based on taste sensations," Ranasinghe said. "For example, if you complete a game task successfully, or complete a level, we can give a sweet, minty or sour reward. If you fail we can deliver a bitter message."


The digital lollipop is made of a silver electrode that touches the tip of the tongue to reproduce sweet, salty, sour or bitter flavours.
(Nimesha Ranasignhe / National University of Singapore)


Would you make use of a virtual tasting device if you had the chance? Share your thoughts below.

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