virtual reality smart spoon taste
Virtual taste simulator sends electric pulses to taste buds to deliver different sensations to a user's tongue IBTimes UK

Cups and cutlery that simulate virtual taste sensations have been developed, enabling flavours to be delivered to users through electric pulses sent to the tongue.

Engineers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) developed the Taste+ device in the hope of enhancing the flavour of food, as well as restoring taste to those who have lost it as a result of old age or through cancer treatments.

"We wanted to come up with a digital method to activate the taste sensation, so this is the result," Nimesha Ranasingue, a research fellow at NUS who worked on the Taste+, told IBTimes UK at the Smart Nation Innovations conference in Singapore this week.

"We used electrical stimulation on the tongue to conduct studies and try to come up with a model saying 'using these parameters we can activate these primary taste sensations.

"By using silver electrodes we apply controlled and brief electrical impulses to the tongue while you are drinking something, or with the spoon while you are eating something in order to augment or alter the existing taste sensations.

"For example, you can drink lemonade and you can virtually control the sour intensity using this kind of technology."

Working prototypes of the Taste+ were on show at the conference, demonstrating how sour, bitter and salt taste sensations can be generated by altering a dial at the bottom of the Taste+ cup, or by pressing a button on the handle of the spoon.

smart spoon taste  virtual reality
The Taste spoon uses a button to switch between taste sensations NUS

The sense of taste diminishes as people get older, beginning at about the age of 50. Treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy also cause damage to taste buds, which can lead to a complete loss of taste.

"Both of these groups are complaining about diminished taste sensations and diminished taste experiences," Ranasingue said. "So we are trying to work with these patients to see whether we can regenerate or whether we can enhance their taste perceptions using this kind of technology."

virtual reality taste NUS taste
The virtual taste simulator uses metal strips to send electric pulses to taste buds, simulating salt, bitter and sour sensations IBTimes UK

Ranasingue believes that the technology could also be transferred to a virtual reality context. By implementing Taste+ in headsets like the Oculus Rift, users would be able to taste objects within a virtual environment.

The Taste+ is still in development but it is hoped that production will begin on a commercial device within the next 12 months.