Digital lollipop offers yummy future

CHEW ON THIS: Researchers at the National University of Singapore are trying to build a digital lollipop that can simulate taste. When the device touches the tongue, it reproduces four well-known tastes.


    Nov 25, 2013

    Digital lollipop offers yummy future

    The New York Times

    HOW many licks does it take to get to the bottom of a digital lollipop?

    That's the question you could soon be asking yourself, thanks to a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore that is trying to build a digital lollipop that can simulate taste.

    While it might sound complicated, the technology is relatively simple.

    When the lollipop - made of a silver electrode - touches the tip of the tongue, it reproduces four well-known tastes: salty, sweet, sour or bitter. Together, these flavours can create different simulations close to the real thing.

    The research is being led by Mr Nimesha Ranasinghe, a PhD research scholar in the university's department of electrical and computer engineering. He hopes that people will one day be able to lick their TV set or smartphone to taste virtual things.

    Mr Ranasinghe told New Scientist last week that a person's taste receptors are fooled by varying the alternating current from the lollipop and slight but rapid changes in temperature.

    The project, which has been in the works for over a year, was presented in its latest iteration at the ACM Multimedia conference in Spain last month.

    But you won't be able to lick your iPhone to taste some strawberry ice cream or a bar of chocolate just yet.

    The researchers still need to add a number of simulated tastes, including more sweet and sugary flavours, and add smell and texture, which would help fool the brain into believing that a taste is real.

    If this experimental work ever makes its way to the commercial world - assuming it's not too expensive to produce - you could imagine a number of scenarios where it could be used.

    Advertisers might include the taste of a product in an ad on your computer or TV set. Movies could become more interactive, allowing people to taste the food an actor is eating.

    And the technology could even have medical applications, allowing people with diabetes, for example, to taste sugar without harming their blood-sugar levels.

    "In a gaming environment, we could come up with a new reward system based on taste sensations," Mr Ranasinghe told New Scientist.

    "For example, if you complete a game task successfully, or complete a level, we could give a sweet, minty or sour reward. If you fail, we could deliver a bitter message."