IBM’s artificial tongue, Hypertaste, can taste things humans can’t

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Just when it seems like there isn’t anything else to label with an “e” in front of it, IBM unveiled its all-new e-tongue. Thanks to an Artificial Intelligence (AI) brain, the device can taste a wide range of liquids on the go.

From digitally sommelier-ing counterfeit wines to municipalities testing the water supply, electronic tongues have a lot of potential. Just like the human tongue, these devices can identify chemicals within a liquid. However, IBM’s version isn’t just any e-tongue. It has the power to reshape how the devices are used.

Portable Powerhouse

Interestingly, electronic tongues aren’t new. Many versions of them are currently available on the market. However, they come with a downside.

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Most e-tongues are portable and can detect just a few substances, or they are huge and can detect a wide range of flavors. IBM’s new device, known as Hypertaste, combines the best of both worlds to make an e-tongue that is portable yet versatile.

The Hypertaste device looks similar to a coaster with a slit down the side. The sleek design allows it to slip onto the side of a glass, like a slice of lemon at a restaurant. Part of the device submerges into the liquid, allowing electrochemical sensors to do their work.

From there, Hypertaste “tastes” the molecules in the liquid. As chemicals bind to receptors on the device’s surface, it mimics the action of a human tongue. The binding process causes the release of electricity, which is then measured and identified.

In essence, it generates a fingerprint of the substance, allowing researchers to identify the entire mixture or its individual components. The information is then transmitted to either a mobile app or a cloud-based server for further processing by an AI system.

Powered by AI

What separates Hypertaste from the rest of the e-tongue market—aside from its top-notch hardware—is the power of AI. Thanks to a carefully taught neural network, the device can generate the fingerprint of any aqueous substance and compare it to a massive database of known liquids. Of course, it returns the closest match to the user.

As if that weren’t impressive enough, Hypertaste does all of it in under a minute. So far, it returns the results with over 90 percent certainty. In all likelihood, that number will continue to increase as the database grows.

Meanwhile, the e-tongue can also identify liquids that users have added to its database. So, companies with proprietary substances could use it to test their own mixtures after adding their fingerprints to the cloud.

Unfortunately, IBM hasn’t released a timetable for when Hypertaste will hit markets. When it does arrive, the device will have widespread use across multiple industries, from environmental science to pharmaceuticals, and life sciences to food testing. In the meantime, IBM will continue growing the database of liquid fingerprints to help make Hypertaste even more helpful.