Need This New Invention? Digital "Lollipop" For Your Computer
There have been jokes about creating smell and taste for television for many decades. Well, now that dream is coming true -- well, sort of. It isn't the smell part, and it isn't the television. Researchers at the University of Singapore have discovered that they can replace four of the five basic tastes by delivering a small dose of electricity to the tongue. So they can match flavors to what you see on your computer screen -- and no, you don't have to lick your computer screen to get the job done either.
The device that they have constructed is a digital taste simulator or what has also been referred to as a "digital lollipop." In addition to electrical stimulation, the device also delivers a little heat. It can replicate sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavors for the tongue. The remaining taste, umami (or savory), has not yet been added.
The researchers hope that the device will allow people to receive taste treats for video game success. They would also like to see it allow you to taste foods you are seeing on all of those cooking shows on television. Who knows? Perhaps it could one day help dieters by allowing them calorie-free doses of their favorite flavors.
The taste synthesizer consists of two metal plates. One is placed on top of the tongue and the other beneath. It tricks your taste sensors with a varying alternating current and small changes in temperature. At this point the device does not yet simulate smell and texture, which are an important part of the food experience, but the team is working on it.
The other thing that they are working on is a less ungainly unit that can stay in the mouth easily and comfortably. After all, very few people want to sit at their computer with their tongue out -- at least not while it is working properly.
They have also been working on a new data format -- taste over internet protocol (TOIP). Someday in addition to sending someone a digital greeting card, you may be able to deliver a tasty treat to them.
The research team even dares to dream that there might be medical applications in being able to restore a sense of taste to people who have lost theirs due to chemotherapy or other issues.
Maybe one day rednecks all over the country will get to watch "smellevision." They could watch NASCAR complete with the taste of beer and the smell of oil and burning rubber. Ah, a dream come true!
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Laurie Kay Olson
Clever Problem Solvers