Will Licking Electrodes Be The Next Big Thing in VR?

It looks like someone decided that licking a battery wasn’t such a bad idea after all! Face electrodes could be the future for VR, giving you a was to taste, and even chew on, virtual food!

There have already been a few projects working on virtual food, such as the digital lollipop from Nimesha Ranasinghe, which aimed to simulate different tastes and even a spoon that could change flavor. Imagine the diet that could have all the sugar tastes you desire, without any actual sugar?

The electrical method has had limited success, and now teams are working on a thermal stimulation system. Presented at the 2016 ACM User Interface Software and Technology Symposium (UIST) in Tokyo, the new technique can mimic sweetness on the tongue, trying to trick neurons into sending the brain signals that saw “sweet”. It’s not perfect, and some users said it was spicy, some even said minty, but it does seem that they’re onto something here.

They tested spoons and bottles with the taste enhancing system and were judged at having an 40-83% success after 30 people tried them while eating porridge with plain water. If they can get sugarless food to taste sweet, it could be a huge benefit for those with health conditions such as diabetes.

A team from the University of Tokyo also has a device to simulate the experience of chewing foods of different textures by placing electrodes on the masseter muscle.

“There is no food in the mouth, but users feel as if they are chewing some food due to haptic feedback by electrical muscle stimulation,” says Niijima.

“I think the main advantage is to increase the immersion inside the virtual environment,” says Ranasinghe.

Of course, that’s only one option, in a few years time we could all be eating food in VR! OK, that’s likely a long way off yet as all these projects are still prototypes, but it would still be pretty cool.

Peter Donnell

As a child still in my 30's (but not for long), I spend my day combining my love of music and movies with a life-long passion for gaming, from arcade classics and retro consoles to the latest high-end PC and console games. So it's no wonder I write about tech and test the latest hardware while I enjoy my hobbies!

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