OK, let’s get this straight from the off. I’m not suggesting that the Virtual Cocktail – or Vocktail as it is known – is set to make the cocktail obsolete. BUT – and it’s a big BUT – the concept and technology behind it, could be a game changer.
The brainchild of researchers at the National University of Singapore, the virtual cocktail – or Vocktail – is engineered to play with a user’s sight, smell and taste.
And the clever design means drinkers believe they are trying a variety of different drinks from cocktails to wine – even if it’s just plain water in their glass.
Nimesha Ranasinghe, lead researcher of the project at the National University of Singapore and an assistant professor at the University of Maine in the US, told me: “I wanted to introduce taste and smell into virtual reality and came up with the idea as part of my PHD research.
“Most people who try it are like ‘wow’. The ‘wow’ factor is huge. But once they have got over this initial reaction they are really curious about trying the different effects.
“You can use real alcohol and augment the flavours, or just use water and totally change the perception of what you are drinking.”
The invention is set around a martini glass that sits in a 3D-printed structure holding three scent cartridges and three micro air-pumps. These release ‘smell molecules’ that change the drinker’s perception of the flavour of what they are drinking – with a fruit scent for wine or lemon scent for lemonade, for instance.
Meanwhile, an LED at the bottom of the glass flashes the colour the user decides. The colour enhances the perception of the flavour further still, with colours including blue that gives the impression of saltiness and green associated with sourness.
Two electrode strips sit on the rim on the glass that then send electric pulses to stimulate the taste buds when in contact with the tongue – to mimic different flavours: 180 microamps for a sour taste, 40 microamps for a salty taste and 80 microamps for a bitter taste.
All these features are fully customisable and controlled using a phone app via Bluetooth, meaning the user can pick and try any drink they want at the touch of a few buttons.
Dr Ranasinghe hopes the invention will be used in the future to help people with dietary restrictions or to help people actually on diets to consume less calories.
He continued: “We can mask the flavor of any drink – including whisky and can also plug-in new smells similar to cartridges on an ink-jet printer.
“We believe it could be used in the future to help elderly people with dietary restrictions or to help people consume fewer calories but still enjoy their drinks or food by enhancing the flavours.
“It could also be used at a pub if you wanted your cocktail to taste a little bit more sour or for people who don’t want to drink alcohol. The possibilities are endless.”
The inventors are now working with companies to bring it onto the market in the near future.