Summary:

The tongue is made out of a bundle of sensors, which could help robots act as food quality monitors or explore new environments.

Electronic tongue sensors
photo: Manel del Valle

Though it can’t taste the difference between PBR and Pliny the Elder, an electronic tongue developed at the Autonomous University of Barcelona was shown to be sensitive enough to differentiate between categories of beer. It’s another example of how scientists could someday give robots a sense of taste, which could help them test quality in a food factory or even whip up a meal in the home.

The researchers made the tongue, which is inspired by the human version, by bundling sensors that could detect different chemicals, including ammonium, sodium and chloride. The tongue doesn’t go all Bender and actually drink the beer; the sensors just need to be in physical contact with the liquid.

Based on the information the sensors gathered, the researchers were able to classify what data matched what type of beer. From there, the tongue was able to identify different varieties with 81.9 percent accuracy.

The tongue was trained to differentiate between Schwarzbier, lager, double malt, Pilsen, Alsatian and low-alcohol beers. It would need additional training to recognize new types of beer or other liquids. Or it could just be paired with existing electronic tongues, like this one out of the University of Milan and University of Norway that can be paired with an electronic nose to identify different types of wine.

Scientists have long looked to living creatures for inspiration in building robots. A University of California-Berkeley team recently developed electronic whiskers that could help robots better sense their environment. And Stanford researchers sent a colony of ants to the International Space Station this month to better understand how robots could operate in emergency situations where communication is difficult.

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