By Adam Dachis
Virtual, mixed, and augmented reality all provide different but compellingly immersive experiences that draw us in through sight and sound. But what about our other senses? A few strange inventions are already exploring the possibilities.
Adrian Cheok, professor of pervasive computing at City University London and the director of Singapore’s Mixed Reality Labs, decided to figure out the best ways to connect our other senses to digital environments. That definitely includes smell and taste, along with touch, and those sensations can be a bit more difficult to “render” with technology.
Previous attempts at recreating smell and taste required chemical emissions to provide those sensations, but that method was never practical and ultimately failed (see: Smell-O-Vision). Instead, Cheok wants to avoid creating stimuli and just manipulate your brain, as he explained in an interview with Motherboard:
We want to transmit smells without using any chemical, so what we’re going to do is use magnetic coils to stimulate the olfactory bulb part of the brain associated with smell. At first, our plan was to insert them through the skull, but unfortunately the olfactory part of the brain is at the bottom, and doing deep-brain stimulation is very difficult.
While that might sound a little scary, the actual technology Cheok created is a little less invasive. Still, most people will likely find his current method at least a little off-putting:
Not much—magnetic fields are very safe. Anyway, our present idea is to place the coils at the back of your mouth. There is a bone there called the palatine bone, which is very close to the region of your brain that makes you perceive smells and tastes. In that way we’ll be able to make you feel them just by means of magnetic actuation.
Nevertheless, this approach points to some very interesting possibilities down the line. Because virtual worlds mostly exist for our entertainment, we easily forget that immersive headsets can subtly hack our brains. As sense-manipulating technology evolves, it will become possible to completely alter a person’s perception of reality.
That prospect is both incredible and somewhat disturbing. Cheok wants to create digital restaurant menus that let us smell each dish through our smartphones, software that makes us feel like we’re cuddling with our significant when they’re thousands of miles away, and even applications that can improve moods through target smells and tastes. Transmitting scent and tactile feeling has obvious applications in the virtual sex/pornography industry as well.
Thanks to the fine line our brains draw between the sensation of touch and pain, there may also immense benefits in the health industry—particularly when it comes to the horribly inadequate methods of pain management we currently utilize. We’re already seeing progress in this specific case with VR headsets alone.
Unfortunately, all this potential could lead to malicious uses down the line. While no technology can ever avoid that problem entirely, when it comes to literally hacking a person’s brain a lot of care will be necessary to keep users safe. It’s too early to tell if we’ll see Cheok’s inventions evolve and proliferate in consumer markets, but it won’t matter much. The methods for manipulating our senses already exist. How we use them will ultimately determine whether they’ll benefit society or pose a serious threat. If history is any indication, it’ll likely be a mix of both.
By AB Wire | October 13, 2016
A group of scientists at the University of London has developed a gadget that can make feel food tastier than actually what it is. The prototype introduced at The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair, in Birmingham uses electric signals to make the effect, reported Telegraph.
While the prototype can boost sweet and salty taste, the scientists are working on developing the device to a full-fledged one which can stimulate all tastes.
“What started out as a fun engineering experiment has now led to something much more exciting with the potential to have a positive social impact,” said Dr. Cheok, professor of pervasive computing.
“The Taste Buddy could eventually help save lives, by allowing people to switch to healthier food choices. Many children hate the taste of vegetables. So I knew that when I became an engineer, I wanted to make a device that could allow children to eat vegetables that taste like chocolate,” added Cheok.
After developing the device, it could be fit within all utensils like spoons, cups, and cans. A prototype spoon is in the pipeline.
The device emits thermal and electric signals that stimulate taste buds which help feel food tastier than actually what it is. The chemical reaction happening in the mouth is stimulated using electrical signals and temperature.
The receptors on the tongue use the reaction between saliva and the acidity of hydrogen or sodium to recognize the salty taste. When Taste Buddy is used, electrical stimulation from the device stimulates artificial reaction.
Sweetness is recognized by a channel called TRPM5 which uses variation in temperature of the food. When hot food is taken, it feels sweeter. To exploit the temperature variation, the device quickly raises the temperature of the tongue from 77F (25C) to 104F (40C).
“We’re actually trying out a spoon interface to eat desserts at the moment. We’ve been changing the temperature of the spoon from 25 Celsius to 40 Celsius using an electronic circuit. People have reported sweeter tastes when eating sweets at a warmer temperature,” said Kasun Thejitha Karunanayaka who is also working in the group.
“Just like the microchip, we’re hoping to make the taste buddy smaller and smaller, to eventually fit within cutlery, fizzy drink cans, utensils, and cups, and to be powered by a Bluetooth device, to choose the levels of taste you’d like,” Karunanayaka added.
BY JOHN VON RADOWITZ
The device uses a weak electric current to trick the taste buds into thinking bland or unappetising ‘healthy’ food is a delicious treat
Can’t get your kids to eat veg? This device may solve your mealtime problems
A device that tricks the tongue could one day be used to turn the most unappetising “healthy” food into a delicious treat, scientists say.
Placed in the mouth, the Taste Buddy emits thermal and electric signals that stimulate the taste buds.
While the early prototype is restricted to imitating sweet or salty tastes, future versions have the potential to completely alter our diets – for instance, by transforming bland tofu into juicy steak, or conjuring up chocolate broccoli, it is claimed.
Professor Adrian Cheok, from City, University of London, who led the team of scientists and engineers that created the device said: “What started out as a fun engineering experiment has now led to something much more exciting with the potential to have a positive social impact.
“The Taste Buddy could eventually help save lives, by allowing people to switch to healthier food choices.”
He added: “Many children hate the taste of vegetables. So I knew that when I became an engineer, I wanted to make a device that could allow children to eat vegetables that taste like chocolate.”
In its current early form the Taste Buddy consists of a 2cm wide tab that sits on the tongue and is wired to a bulky processor.
To enhance sweetness, the device warms up very rapidly and stimulates specific taste receptors that react to heat.
A weak electric current is used to target other taste buds responsible for salty flavours.
Members of the public will have a chance to try out the Taste Buddy for themselves at The Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair.
The event, aimed at young people interested in science, technology and engineering, takes place from March 15 to 18 at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham.
Sarah Knapton, science editor, 13 OCTOBER 2016 • 6:00AM
Dieters will be able to have their cake and eat it after scientists developed a device which makes low-sugar food taste sweeter.
The invention – dubbed Taste Buddy – emits a low-level electrical current to stimulate taste buds so the mouth perceives sweet or salty flavours, even when they are not really present.
It is being developed by scientists at the University of London, led by Prof Adrian Cheok, who unveiled the gadget at The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair, in Birmingham this week.
The device could eventually be engineered to fit within everyday utensils such as cutlery, cups and cans and the team has already begun working on a prototype spoon.
Prof Cheok said with further development it could be used to allow people to taste something they enjoy while eating a healthy dish, for example making tofu taste like steak or vegetables like chocolate.
“What started out as a fun engineering experiment has now led to something much more exciting with the potential to have a positive social impact,” said Dr Cheok, professor of pervasive computing.
“The Taste Buddy could eventually help save lives, by allowing people to switch to healthier food choices.
“Many children hate the taste of vegetables. So I knew that when I became an engineer, I wanted to make a device that could allow children to eat vegetables that taste like chocolate.”
The invention exploits the chemical reactions happening in the mouth when we eat. Sour and salty tastes are recognised when taste receptors on the tongue detect the reaction between saliva and the acidity of hydrogen or sodium.
Using electrical stimulation the team has found a frequency which artificially simulates the reaction
For sweet tastes there is a channel called TRPM5 which is temperature sensitive, so people taste more sweetness when the food is hot than cold. So to mimic sweeter tastes the device changes the temperature of the tongue rapidly from 77F (25C) to 104F (40C.)
Kasun Thejitha Karunanayaka who has been working alongside Prof Cheok at the University of London said: “We’re actually trying out a spoon interface to eat desserts at the moment.
“We’ve been changing the temperature of the spoon from 25 Celsius to 40 Celsius using an electronic circuit. People have reported sweeter tastes when eating sweets at a warmer temperature.
“We’re going to do a study next year into the eating behaviours of people too, to help create a cutlery set.
“Just like the microchip, we’re hoping to make the taste buddy smaller and smaller, to eventually fit within cutlery, fizzy drink cans, utensils and cups, and to be powered by a bluetooth device, to choose the levels of taste you’d like.”
The team say that they are also working on producing different tastes which they claim is time consuming because even the difference between a lemon and a lime is vast.
“We also want to take into consideration just how different everyone’s sense of taste is, added Mr Karunanayaka.
“For instance, we know that people who eat lots of spicy food, or people who smoke, have less sensitive taste, and therefore need a higher thermal and electrical current to create the taste. To make it robust enough and available to absolutely everyone, we need to do more work.”
The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair takes place from the 15-18 March 2017 at the NEC in Birmingham. For more information, visit www.thebigbangfair.co.uk.