Researchers at the National University of Singapore have developed an electronic flavour creating device called the Digital Taste Simulator. When fully developed this device could bring a lot of tasty options to virtual reality but at present it is said to only be really useful for generating the four primary tastes of sweet, salty, bitter, and sour – no umami as yet.
The Digital Taste Simulator works via an electrode and separate heating element which sits upon the user’s tongue. A computer attached to the tongue-attached device sends combinations of electrical currents (not currants) and slight temperature changes which convince your tongue that it is tasting one of the four basic flavours.
Nimesha Ranasinghe, leading the team at the National University of Singapore, said “We have found non-invasive electrical and thermal stimulation of the tip of the tongue successfully generates the primary taste sensations”. He added that controlling the magnitude of current, frequency, and the change of temperature is currently better at simulating sour and salty sensations than bitter and sweet sensations.
Taste over IP and the Digital Lollipop
The Digital Taste Simulator is in the early stages of development and is being worked upon to function in a more comfortable position with the user’s mouth almost closed. CNet reports that Ranasinghe and his team are also working on simulating smell and texture which are also very important to gastronomes. Also on Ranasinghe’s online portfolio page you will see related projects such as a Taste over IP (Taste/IP) framework and a Digital Lollipop.
Sweet taste of success
When will be see the first games or entertainment software featuring this kind of sensory simulation, how would it work? Talking to the New Scientist Ranasinghe said “In a gaming environment we could come up with a new reward system based on taste sensations,” He gave an 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.” Ranasinghe also suggested some medical uses; “People with diabetes might be able to use the taste synthesiser to simulate sweet sensations without harming their actual blood sugar levels,” and people with a diminished sense of taste could also find the device useful.