Virtual reality may soon no longer be constrained to just your senses of sight and hearing. Scientists have managed to replicate the tastes and textures of different foods virtually, tricking our brains into thinking we’re eating, when we’re not.
Over the past couple of years, advances in virtual reality have been quite impressive. We’re nearing a point where virtual reality headsets can display seemingly real environments and fool us into thinking we’re somewhere where we’re not. Sound and vision are very important aspects of that experience, but they’re not the full story. For a truly immersive experience, humans need to also experience touch, and smell and taste. Interestingly enough, though touch is still a challenge, we almost have a solution for those last two.
A number of different researchers in Japan and Singapore have been working on these problems and have come to some impressive solutions. By using electrical and thermal stimulation of some of our muscles, they were able to trick humans into believing they were eating or tasting something that wasn’t there. In one experiment a spoon fitted with electrodes acted like a digital lollipop, with users reporting different tastes based on varying electrical currents. The easiest one to achieve seems to be a sweet taste.
In another research project, scientists attached electrodes to jaw muscles and managed to simulate the sensation of biting into different materials. For example, by varying the electrical stimulation, users reported that while eating a real cookie, it felt like biting into something soft, or chewing something hard alternatively.
The scientists involved in these projects believe the technology could be used in the real world to augment the taste or texture of food and drink. For example, we could trick our brains so that healthier food tastes better, or so we could cut down on sweetened products.
However, we’re much more excited about the potential of this technology to augment our virtual reality experiences. This way we might finally find out what that cake in Portal tastes like.
Source: New Scientist