Ever see a photo of chocolate cake that looked so yummy you wanted to taste it right through your computer screen? Believe it or not, that may soon be possible.
A team from the National University of Singapore says it has developed a "digital taste simulator." Called the Digital Taste Interface, the device has silver electrodes that deliver current and heat to the tongue -- tricking your taste buds into thinking they've just encountered something tasty.
"By manipulating the magnitude of current, frequency, and temperature -- both heating and cooling -- thus far salty, sour, and bitter sensations have been successfully generated," lead researcher, Nimesha Ranasinghe, told The Telegraph.
So far, Ranasinghe has been unable to replicate umami, the fifth taste sensation, which is often characterized as pleasant and savory.
This isn't the first taste simulator out there. In 2003, researchers at Japan's University of Tsukuba unveiled a food simulator. But unlike Ranasinghe's design, the Japanese-made interface involves an injection of chemicals into the mouth.
While the taste simulator may be ideal for virtual reality players and salivating Internet users, Ranasinghe sees broad medical applications for his device.
"People with diabetes might be able to use the taste synthesizer to simulate sweet sensations without harming their actual blood sugar levels," Ranasinghe told the New Scientist. "Cancer patients could use it to improve or regenerate a diminished sense of taste during chemotherapy."
Ranasinghe's prototype requires users to hold the taste simulator to the tongue. But future versions may be small enough to fit easily inside the mouth or on a stick, like a digital lollipop.
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