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Electrodes and air pumps create ‘virtual cocktails’

An interactive drinking device called Vocktail allows users to customize a “virtual cocktail” that researchers say smells, tastes, and looks like the real thing.

Vocktail digitally simulates distinct tastes, smells, and colors to create new virtual flavors or augment existing flavors in order to achieve the ideal concoction, without physically mixing beverages and ingredients.

Vocktail consists of a cocktail glass seamlessly fused into a 3D-printed base, which holds the electronic control module and three micro air-pumps connected to three scent cartridges. The device is coupled with a mobile application that enables users to create customized virtual flavors by remotely configuring the taste, smell, and color stimuli via Bluetooth.

Two silver electrodes on the rim of the glass provide controlled electrical currents of different magnitudes and frequencies to the tip of the tongue in order to simulate salty or sour sensations while drinking, which affect the taste of the beverage.

To alter smell, the air-pumps release molecules from the chosen scent cartridges directly onto the surface of the beverage, which is close to the user’s nose when drinking. Users can add or change cartridges depending on the desired smell. They are also easily refillable, similar to replacing ink cartridges in a printer.

Lastly, since visual stimuli form pre-taste perceptions, users can select their preferred color with the mobile application which projects an LED light onto the beverage.

The combination of these three stimuli delivers a rich virtual flavor experience, say the researchers.

“You could walk into a bar and order a mojito and using the mobile application, customize it to your preference with, say, a chocolate aroma and a hint of banana or mango. Or you could customize water to taste like your preferred flavored beverage and save the money,” says research fellow Nimesha Ranasinghe, who led the team at the Keio-NUS Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments (CUTE) Center.

As the mobile application affords users full control, they can save individual creations as pre-sets for precise replication or for sharing with friends via social networks.

Vocktail could also benefit the elderly who are on a restricted diet because of health conditions such as hypertension or heart disease.

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“Using this technology, salt can be delivered in a virtual manner without the health drawbacks. Likewise for diabetic patients, sugar consumption can be reduced dramatically without loss of sensory pleasure. It could also enhance quality of life for chemotherapy patients who have a reduced sense of taste. There are many applications that can be explored,” adds Ranasinghe.

The team is currently working to customize other aspects, such as the fizziness and texture of the beverage, to create a more realistic experience, and is in talks with companies for mass production.

Source: National University of Singapore