What if you could drink your favorite cocktail, but it wouldn’t contain any of the sugar, fat or bad stuff? Oh, and it wouldn’t give you a hangover either. Sounds too good to be true, but it might not be thanks to a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore who developed something called a “Vocktail.”
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This “virtual cocktail” comes in the form of a high-tech glass that lets you change three sensory components—the scent, color and taste—of your drink via a smartphone app. First, the 3-D printed glass houses scent cartridges connected to tiny air pumps that emit “smell molecules” to affect your perception. Second, the taste of the drink is manipulated by two electrode strips on the rim of the glass that stimulate your taste buds, so different levels of microamps deliver different tastes, such as sour, bitter and salty. The third component is an LED light system at the base of the glass changes the color of the drink to reflect the cocktail of your choice (orange equals rum punch, etc).
Basically, the technology tricks your brain into thinking you’re drinking your favorite alcoholic beverage by controlling what you see and smell in your glass, which affects how it tastes. It makes it possible to turn your plain ol’ glass of water into a cosmopolitan martini with just the press of a button.
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It may seem far-fetched, but the research team, led by lead developer Dr. Nimesha Ranasinghe, says it really works, and that the software and glass they’ve created can create almost any flavor combination. “Flavor is mainly how we perceive food and that’s achieved through the use of these senses,” she says. “Therefore, by changing the color of the drink, using a different smell and changing the taste through electricity, we are able to simulate the flavor of a drink, without it actually changing the liquid. However, we know that simulating our sense externally is not as convincing as the real taste of the drink, so we’re constantly conducting experiments to create an even more immersive experience.”
The other big factor here is that many people drink to feel the actual effects of alcohol, which they wouldn’t in this case. So although it’s a much healthier alternative and could certainly have a big impact on someone’s waistline if they are a heavy drinker, it may take a while to catch on.
However, the researchers have plans to introduce “Vocktails” into actual bars. “We want to bring it to pubs and bars, but we need industry partners to bring it out of the lab and into reality,” says Dr. Ranasinghe.
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I’m not sure I’m sold just yet, but the technology is incredibly intriguing and gives us a peek at what the future could look like. Would you try it?
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