Researchers 'Teleport' Virtual Lemonade Using Sensors and Bluetooth


Researchers have figured a way to turn water into lemonade  digitally. Media for Medical/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Researchers have figured a way to turn water into lemonade digitally. Media for Medical/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Remember how far-fetched lifelike robots and self-driving cars used to sound? Now, they're a reality. And thanks to new research, there's another seemingly improbable technology that's come to life: teleporting a drink, Wonkavision style. Earlier this month, researchers out of the National University of Singapore and Georgia Institute of Technology presented a method for creating "virtual lemonade."

Let's say you can't make it to your cousin's summer shindig, but Granny's going to be there making her beloved lemonade. No worries. Using the researchers' method, Granny could send you some of the beverage simply by mounting and submerging an RGB color sensor and pH sensor in a glass of her lemonade. (Color affects the drinker's flavor perceptions, and pH affects the drink's acidity.) The "taste messaging" would then occur via Bluetooth communication, when a control module sends the color and sourness information to a custom tumbler you'll soon be sipping Granny's refreshing lemonade out of.

But you, the virtual lemonade receiver, are actually drinking a cup full of plain H2O. The special tumbler has a rim of silver electrodes that serve as a sourness simulator, giving off 800-Hz pulses to tempt your taste buds. An LED (light-emitting diode) device at the bottom of the tumbler gives off a mini light show by diffusing color through the water. You'll only be drinking water, but you'll experience simulated lemonade flavors. So, mind over matter?

In the exploratory study, presented at the Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodies Interaction, researchers gave 12 different real and virtual lemonades to 13 participants. The team used tasteless food coloring agents to make the real lemonades green, cloudy and yellow (typical lemonade colorings), and LED lights to color the virtual lemonades similarly.

Participants reported the real lemonade tasted sourer than the virtual. But overall, there were no statistically significant differences in their perceptions of real and virtual flavors, so teleporting lemonade could turn out to be a sweet deal. The team hopes this study leads to further analyses, like extending virtual flavor technologies for multisensory interactions like toasting drinks, or even sharing digital signatures of beverages stored in a virtual cloud. But apparently, that's just a taste of things to come.