Virtual Technology

The Sweet Taste Of Reality.

As a child, reading about Bertie Bott’s ‘Every Flavoured Beans’ in the famous Harry Potter series truly fascinated me. Living in a Muggle world, I had to rely on a powerful imagination cultivated by devouring a plethora of books to understand the subtle tastes that the Beans mention. 
Young readers who pick up the classics in future (provided that books are still relevant), however, might not have to face a similar ordeal. With the advent of Virtual Reality, readers can now have immersive experiences at less than a click of a button. 

A major breakthrough in creating such an immersive world comes from researchers at Meiji University in Japan. Taste has always been tricky to incorporate in virtual reality experiences. However, the team of Japanese researches presented a piece of chewing gum at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Berlin, Germany, which never loses its flavour. 
The device works on the principle of piezoelectric effect, wherein a particular type of material (very conveniently termed “Piezoelectric Material”) when subjected to stress, produces an electric charge in response. 

It appears to be like a regular chewing gum that you’d offer to your friends, but consists of a small device- made from a piezoelectric material- covered with a thin, saliva repellent film, that generates a current of electricity when chewed. Sounds shocking, but the electric current produced is of a much lesser intensity than the human threshold for pain. So if a friend offers you this gum, rest assured, they don’t have a murder plan up their sleeve. 
Moreover, the gum can incorporate other flavours by adjusting the strength and pattern of the electric current generated when chewing, corresponding to those generated by natural substances. As of now, the researchers are experimenting only with basic flavours, like salty or bitter. However, the future looks promising for the team and they hope that they would be able to produce expand their range of flavours. 

A few attempts have previously been made to create similar futuristic taste-devices earlier, the most notable being by Nimesha Ranasinghe, who developed a programmable cocktail glass and chopsticks. 
The former- dubbed the “Vocktail” can be controlled by a mobile application. It consists of LEDs, that change the colour of the drink poured in the glass (to make it look similar to the desired drink) and electrodes- that are placed around the rim of the glass and stimulate the tongue to experience a particular flavour. Moreover, a small element even lets the user smell the drink, thus completing the illusion. 

At a time when technology has reached a point where we, ourselves, can convert water to wine with just an app, it is easy to become lethargic and let our progress stagnate in a pool of our own complacency. However, there is a plethora of things that are beyond current human intelligence. We must constantly keep exploring, find out things that we didn’t know yesterday, taking both failures and successes in our stride.

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