Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

George Putic

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures. For now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch.

Many people around the world enjoy one of the greatest marvels of modern technology every day — instant audio-visual communication.

But professor Adrian David Cheok, from City University in London, said he wants to transcend what he calls the ‘glass barrier’.

“In the real world, we can open up the glass, open the window. We can touch, we can taste, we can smell in the real world,” said Cheok.

Mobile taste

Let’s start with the sense of taste. Cheok said different tastes are triggered by molecules that cause chemical ionization on the surface of the tongue, sending the brain electrical signals of a specific amplitude and frequency that are possible to reproduce with two electrodes.

“You put these two silver electrodes in your mouth, you put your tongue in between and then it stimulates electrically your tongue and you get a virtual taste perception in your brain,” he said.

So far, scientists have reproduced sour, salty, sweet and bitter tastes.

Another device, called ‘Scentee,’ plugs into a smartphone, and can spray tiny clouds of selected fragrances, such as lavender or jasmine, smells of fruits or even coffee, when prompted by the other side of the conversation.

“Basically what happens, we have an app, it connects to the Internet and then this will release scent from your mobile phone,” said Cheok.

Long-distance smell, touch

Scentee holds a cartridge with about 100 different smells, but has to be replaced once it’s been used up.

The sense of touch comes through a ring-like device. Connected wirelessly to the smartphone, it transmits a gentle squeeze when the other person does the same during a conversation.

“I can be in London and my friend can be in Tokyo, and I can squeeze my finger and then they’ll get a squeeze on their finger through the Internet. It’s a way of touch communication with small mobile devices,” said Cheok.

Cheok said he hopes devices such as these will someday be added to smartphones and even smart houses, transcending the current limitations of long-distance communication.