We may be able to experience two of our senses virtually – seeing visuals and hearing sounds on a computer — but what if we could taste things through our screens? Researchers have developed a simulator that creates “virtual taste” online, by activating the tongue through electrical signals.
“Taste is an expressive sense,” a video describing the project says, “connecting personal emotions and experiences. Can we share the same tasting experience digitally and remotely?”
Dr. Nimesha Ranasinghe, a researcher at the National University of Singapore's Keio-NUS CUTE Center who led the project, found a way to recreate the taste of both food and drink by activating the tongue through non-invasive electrical and thermal stimulation. On his website, Dr. Ranasinghe explains that, “The digital taste interface, a control system, is developed to simulate the taste sensations digitally on the tongue.”
His device is called the Digital Taste Interface. The researchers were able to conduct signals through a silver electrode, which touches the tip of a person’s tongue. These signals then produce various taste sensations — salty, sour, sweet, and bitter. Thermal stimulation was used to generate minty, spicy, and sweet sensations.
But where might such virtual taste be used? In a news release, Dr. Ranasinghe noted that a possible outlet for this simulation could be in video games. “As an illustration, if a gamer completes a task or level successfully, a sweet or minty dose will be rewarded,” the news release states. “However, failure is delivered with a bitter taste.”
Furthermore, the researchers believe that the simulator could also be used in medicine. People with diabetes would be able to taste sweetness virtually, without causing a negative impact on their blood sugar levels. Likewise, chemotherapy patients who find that all foods taste like metal, could utilize the device to improve their appetite, Dr. Ranasinghe said.