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Can Smartphones Send Tastes, Smells, Touch Someday?

We can express thoughts and feelings and send sounds and pictures on our smartphones today. We also communicate using programs like Skype and Face Time. We can’t send tastes, smells or touch, of course. But scientists in Britain are trying to develop a way for smartphones to do just that.

Adrian David Cheok is a professor at City University in London. He wants people to experience communication using all of their senses.

“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.”

To give users a sense of taste, researchers designed two electrodes that are placed on the tongue. A chemical process creates different tastes through molecules on the surface of the tongue. This chemical process sends electrical signals that convince the brain that a person is tasting something. They have already created sour, salty, sweet and bitter tastes.

“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.”

A device called “Scentee” permits users to have the sense of smell. Scentee plugs into a smartphone and can spray tiny clouds of fragrances, including flowers, fruits and coffee. Professor Cheok says the person speaking can activate the device.

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

Scentee holds a container with about 100 different smells. The container must be replaced when all the scents run out.

The sense of touch comes from a ring-like device. It is connected wirelessly to the smartphone. The device sends a soft, electrical squeeze when a person on the other end of a telephone conversation does the same. Professor Cheok says this permits a kind of wireless touch communication.

“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.”

Professor Cheok says he hopes devices like these will someday be added to houses. He says they may change the future of long-distance communication.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

VOA Correspondent George Putic reported this story from Washington. Jonathan Evans wrote it in VOA Learning English. He also read and produced the program. Christopher Cruise edited the story.


Words in This Story

activate v. to cause a device to start working

electrode n. one of the two points through which electricity flows into or out of a battery or other device

fragrancen. a pleasant and usually sweet smell

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