Using a combination of LEDs, electrodes and smelly gas, the Vocktail can simulate a variety of flavours to create digital drinks

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Drinks are so last century – but they’re getting an upgrade. A device called the Vocktail is shaking up the traditional cocktail by mixing in a dash of electronics designed to fool your senses.

Made by Nimesha Ranasinghe and his team at the National University of Singapore, the Vocktail – short for virtual cocktail – is a glass that can be made to alter and augment flavours via a phone app. Once a liquid is poured into the glass, a drinker can change three aspects affecting its taste.

First, they can change their perception of the drink by altering its colour via an LED in the glass. Next, they can make the drink seem more sweet, salty or bitter using tongue-stimulating electrodes placed around the rim. In previous experiments, the team showed that different electrical patterns can give the impression of various tastes. Finally, a tube in the side of the glass releases gases with different smells, such as lime, that change the perceived flavour even more.

Ranasinghe previously created a digital lemonade using colours and electrodes to trick people’s taste buds. By adding smell to the mix, the Vocktail opens up many more flavour combinations. Virtual drinks can make you think you are drinking something sugary when you are in fact just swigging water, letting people satisfy their taste buds without any of the calories. The app also lets you share your favourite virtual cocktail recipes with others.

One day, devices like the Vocktail may become part of an ultimate virtual reality experience in which all sensations are simulated digitally. “A Vocktail could become a welcome addition to social experiences in virtual pubs or bars,” says Adalberto Simeone at the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL) in Belgium.

The Vocktail was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery Multimedia Conference last month.

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