Dr. Ranasinghe and his collegue, Ellen Yi-Luen Do began their study on emulation of food flavor and texture using thermal stimulation. They came up with a square tool with thermo-electric elements attached to it.
At the 2016 ACM User Interface Software and Technology Symposium (UIST) in Tokyo, participants tested this technology by touching the square with the tip of the tongue. The tool changes its temperature based on the food being simulated. 50% of the participants reported a sensation of spiciness when the device was warmer (around 35 °C) and a minty taste when it was cooler (18 °C).
But food isn’t just about taste – texture is every bit as important. A team from the University of Tokyo presented a device that uses electricity to simulate the experience of chewing foods of different textures. Arinobu Niijima and Takefumi Ogawa‘s Electric Food Texture System uses electrodes placed on the masseter muscle (a muscle in the jaw used for chewing) to give sensations of hardness or chewiness as a user bites down. There isn’t any food in the mouth, but users feel as if they are chewing some food due to haptic feedback by electrical muscle stimulation.
The team will develop the idea by targeting additional muscles in the jaw to create more complex textures, and combining the electrical stimulation with other sensory inputs, such as chewing sounds.
According to Dr. Ranasinghe, his experiments will be useful to people on a restricted diet, as well as for diabetics. For others, satisfying our cravings will be totally guilt-free!