Digital Taste Interface - The Delicious Frontier

Despite all the mind boggling progress that technology has made, the sensation of taste has mostly eluded the brave researchers and smart engineers with regards to its creation, storage and transmission.  The reason lies in the way these efforts have so far been made i.e., the use of an array of edible chemicals to produce different taste sensations which is unrealistic as these chemicals are difficult to store, mix, manipulate and transmit over the net.

The solution to this challenge has been very creatively proposed and experimented with by Dr. Nimesha Ranasinghe, a gifted researcher from the Pearl Of The Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, presently making his contributions at the Keio-NUS CUTE Center, National University of Singapore.

Dr. Ranasinghe’s novel approach is to use a digital method for simulating the sensation of taste instead of a chemical method. He has successfully deciphered the way our tongue and the roof of our mouth bestowed with taste -buds sense tastes and has recreated it - digitally.  Dr. Ranasinghe and his team has stimulated the tongue in such a way so as to evoke the sense of the desired taste. For this they have actuated the human tongue through electrical and thermal stimulations using a pair of silver electrodes which is worn on the human tongue.

The real challenge is to control various inputs used for evoking the desired taste such as the magnitude of the current, it’s frequency, polarity, change of temperature, etc., in such a manner so as to create or rather evoke the kind of taste sensation that one is intending to. For this, a control module has been developed that actually formulates and controls different electrical and thermal stimuli and their mix.

The pair of silver electrodes and it’s controller module together is called the Digital Taste Interface.

So far salty, sour,  sweet and bitter taste sensations have been successfully evoked through non-invasive tongue stimulation.

This delicious frontier is a fast moving one. Dr. Ranasinghe and his team has not only developed this Digital Taste Interface, they are also working on the digital transmission of taste over the internet (using IP i.e. Internet Protocol).  For this purpose they have developed a framework, called Taste Over IP (Taste/IP).  It has three core modules: transmitter, communication and receiver.  

The transmission module is essentially an Android app where the sender forms the “taste message” to be sent using  TXML, a new extensible markup language (XML) called Taste XML which has been developed by Dr. Ranasinghe. TXML specifies the format of the taste message and is the language that is understood both by the sender and the receiver. 

At the receiver end, the Digital Taste Interface is used to evoke the taste that the “taste message” conveys on behalf of the sender to the receiver. Essentially, these are a pair of silver electrodes worn on the tongue that acts as the actuator and is controlled by the control unit of the Digital Taste Interface.  The control unit controls the taste evoking inputs like the magnitude, polarity and frequency of the current, as per the received taste message expressed in TXML.

Dr. Ranasinghe and his team believes that  in the future, this technology may be used to implement digital taste sharing platforms and social networking services. This will be a really sweet scenario to see people sharing their mouth watering experiences with their near and dear ones, through the digital lolly.  Cooking shows aired on TV channels will not only share the recipe but the flavors of their delicious preparations too.  Mouth watering and zero calories- great combo!

Source: National University of Singapore