With all its porn sites and grumpy cat pictures, the Internet — according to some — isn’t exactly the place you go to when looking for good taste. But a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore is out to ensure that taste becomes a big part of the digital world — literally.
So, move over 3D, RealD and Smell-O-Vision, because soon you’ll be able to actually taste the Internet. The scientists have created a “digital lollipop,” or Digital Taste Interface, that can transmit the flavours of virtual food and drink to the tongue. Sure, it may sound like science fiction, but it’s a reality… well, a virtual reality, anyway.
Imagine looking online at a picture of a particular recipe and being able to sample how the dish tastes. The simulator uses signals that reproduce the four well-known major taste components — salty, sweet, sour and bitter — which are transmitted through a silver electrode you place on the tip of your tongue. The gizmo fools your taste buds by using a varying alternating current and slight changes in temperature controlled by semiconductor elements that heat and cool rapidly.
Mmm, sounds tasty, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want to stick an electrified piece of hot metal in your mouth to simulate the taste of a cheese casserole?
But the gadget’s inventors say it’s completely non-invasive, and they even want to find a way to add smells and texture to the experience. It’s far from a perfected technology, though. They have yet to find a way to reproduce the fifth taste component called “umami,” or “the one nobody has ever heard about.” Although it sounds like a type of sushi made from decomposing sea urchins, umami is actually what gives food its savoury flavour.
But when they do finally get the tech working properly, it’ll have a tremendous number of applications.
On the entertainment front, the simulator could be incorporated into video games to add taste rewards, according to the researchers. For instance, if you beat a particular boss or difficult level, you could get a digital chocolate chip cookie. I guess by the same token, if you fail, they could flood your mouth with the taste of earwax or, God forbid, Christmas fruit cake. Of course, you’ll also be able to sample those online recipes, or new food products, and the simulator would certainly add a completely new and yummy dimension to watching movies. I personally look forward to sharing a soufflé with Scarlett Johansson in the near future. Just don’t tell my wife.
But it isn’t all fun and games.
The technology’s inventors say there are plenty of health-care benefits to the simulator, as well. Folks with diabetes might be able to use the taste synthesizer to simulate sweet sensations without affecting their actual blood sugar levels, and cancer patients could use it to improve or regenerate a diminished sense of taste during chemotherapy, according to the team.
Also, for those of you who have trouble keeping out of the cookie jar when dieting, the simulator could let you eat all the cookies, cakes and gummy bears you want without having to worry about that whole “one minute on the lips equals a lifetime on the hips” thing that no guy has ever thought about.
But the Internet being what it is, you know somebody will invariably use the technology for the nefarious purpose of bringing us the flavours of porn or grumpy cats. Oh well, at least it isn’t Christmas fruit cake.