Taste On The Internet: Researchers Find A Way To Simulate ‘Virtual Taste’ Online

eating food at computer
Scientists believe they can make virtual taste available on computers, to be used in video gaming or health care. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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.

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