Whether it’s floating clocks or hovering smartphone chargers, levitation is hot right now. That’s why we’re totally hyped at the prospect of some fascinating research coming out of the Sussex Computer Human interaction (SCHI) Lab at the U.K.’s University of Sussex, where engineers have figured out how to make a levitating food-delivery system, in which tasty grub floats straight into your mouth. No knife and fork required!
“We are interested in a way to deliver small quantities of food to a user without anyone touching the food,” Sriram Subramanian, professor of Informatics at the University of Sussex, told Digital Trends. “We created a way to deliver food from a dropper to the user’s mouth without touching anything. Food morsels are levitated using acoustic levitation techniques, and transported using our device to the user’s mouth. This is an semi-automated process giving us digital control over what food is delivered to the user’s mouth, when it is delivered, and how much is delivered.”
So far, the TastyFloats technology has been used to levitate tiny droplets of wine, blue cheese, bread, lettuce, meat, bread, and raspberry grain. Interestingly, the droplets of food changed the way that the flavors were registered by users. In volunteer trials, sweet tastes were reported as being more intense and recognizable, while bitter tastes were much harder to recognize.
“Our biggest challenge in this work was to be able to control the levitation system so that food morsels are stable in the system, whether it is wine, meat, or cheese that we are levitating,” Subramanian continued. “In other words, we needed to find a way to control the levitation energy so that it is strong enough to hold different density food items, but not so strong that they evaporate.”
Subramanian suggested that the technology could be used to deliver a more complete multisensory experience to people experiencing virtual reality, television, or gaming. Imagine, for example, being in a virtual environment that not only looks real but tastes real, as well — without you needing to do any more than open your mouth to achieve the intended effect.
“What we’ve created [so far] is a first prototype that is somewhat cumbersome to use,” Subramanian said. “In the future, we want to make the delivery system more robust and easy to deploy. We would also look to try and create a short movie experience which incorporates our TastyFloats system to get an idea of how users experience it. Finally, we would love to work with content developers to create content that harnesses the potential of our device. While I can easily see a more refined version of our system becoming a real-world device, this is probably a few years away.”