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By Jasmine Crittenden
November 27, 2013
By Jasmine Crittenden
November 27, 2013

Despite brighter-than-summer colours and clearer-than-Crater Lake sound, virtual reality is still bigger on virtuality than it is on reality. That's largely because the acceptance of digital life demands the denial of touch, smell and taste.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore, however, are hoping to change this. They're one step closer to adding at least one sensory dimension to cyberspace. An electrodes-driven simulator has been developed that stimulates the tastebuds to recreate four of the sensations essential to the gustatory experience: sweet, salt, sour and bitter. A digital interface enables micro-alterations in temperature.

Engineer Dr Nimesha Ranasinghe told the UK Telegraph, "It uses two methods — electrical stimulation and thermal stimulation to stimulate the tip of the human tongue non-invasively ... By manipulating the magnitude of current, frequency and temperature — both heating and cooling — thus far salty, sour, sweet and bitter sensations have been successfully generated ... Simulating food is one of the future directions of this technology."

It's intended that users will be able to share meals virtually and taste the results of popular cooking shows. However, there's still work to be done. The simulator is yet to prove successful at stimulating at the fifth basic flavour, umami. Plus, researchers have acknowledged that our experience of taste is shaped by a variety of complex factors, including texture, colours and smell.

In a side-project, the team is simultaneously developing a digital lollipop. The plan is to provide consumers with a sweet hit without the usual risks: weight gain and tooth decay.

Previous attempts at facilitating digital taste have been rendered unsuccessful by their dependence on chemicals. Requiring constant mixing and frequent renewing, they're messy, costly and impractical.


Published on November 27, 2013 by Jasmine Crittenden


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