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Japan Hardware Science Technology News

Electric Fork Simulates a Salty Flavor By Shocking Your Tongue (med.news.am) 175

An anonymous reader writes: It's common knowledge that excess sodium can be detrimental to one's health. So researchers in Japan have built a prototype electric fork that uses electrical stimulation to stimulate the taste of salt. The battery-powered fork was engineered and designed at the University of Tokyo's Rekimoto Lab. It features a conductive handle that completes a circuit when the tines make contact with a diner's tongue, electrically stimulating their taste buds. The prototype fork, which was built from just $18 worth of electronics, creates a sensation of both salty and sour, and has adjustable levels of stimulation.
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Electric Fork Simulates a Salty Flavor By Shocking Your Tongue

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  • Of this device electrocuting you?
    • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Monday April 04, 2016 @05:52AM (#51836759)

      chances of this device electrocuting you?

      Probably 0, because the necessary energy would require a larger storage volume than a fork's handle.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday April 04, 2016 @06:18AM (#51836831) Journal
        I suspect that you could squeeze enough energy into that volume to electrocute someone; but humans are reasonably resistive(even if you accidentally stabbed yourself with the fork, it looks like there is an electrical contact on the handle, so it has to pass at least one layer of skin), so unless some sort of insane enthusiasm for liability led them to design the thing to deliver fairly high voltage at at least moderately punchy current, it would still be harmless.

        It doesn't actually take much energy, at all, to kick some unlucky sucker's heart into a life threatening abnormal state; but you have to deliver that very modest jolt to the correct place; and doing that is a matter of either nontrivial brute force or very bad luck.
        • by guruevi ( 827432 )

          To kill someone using electricity you need to deliver certain amounts of energy in a short time (think Coulombs not Volts/Amps). There is also a range for which it works, too little and nothing happens, too much and you're just clamping someone's heart after which they likely recover (although you could've caused severe burn and internal organ damage).

          You could potentially kill someone based off a battery based device but you need to modify the signal quite a bit.

          • Coulombs is charge. Amps is charge per time. Energy in a short amount of time is the same as power. To say that you need a certain amount of power to kill somebody is false. You need a certain amount of current across the heart (amps not coulombs). That is all. You'd need a battery with a max draw of about 200mA with sufficient voltage to break though the skin (or a pokey thing), while holding the fork in your left hand, and hope that the other end of the fork on your tongue will create a current path close
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          They don't say what sort of battery is being used. If it's a stack of coin cells (quite possible as a single AAA would fit but you need to operate down to 0.9V to get good life out of it) then they probably can't supply more than a few tends of milliamperes anyway, even when shorted.

      • A very small amount of current, precisely timed, can throw the heart out of rhythm. I used to use a portable electrical stimulation device that stimulated nerve growth. I once made the mistake of touching an electrode with my left hand while the other electrode was connected to my right arm. When it pulsed it nearly killed me. Cross my heart, hope to die.
        • Hopefully they are not putting a pacemaker, or any remotely similar circuit, in this device.

          • The amount of electricity required to cause an arrhythmia is small, but the electrical impulses used in the brain are minute. What about seizures? IFIRC the tongue has the densest concentration of nerve endings in the human body and it's awfully close to the brain. The downsides may be outweighed if millions of people reduce intake of sodium. But I think it's worth studying the risks.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by arth1 ( 260657 )

      Of this device electrocuting you?

      Probably 100%, or it would be useless. As in a mild electrocution, not causing any damage other than confusing your pain receptors and taste buds.

      It's likely restricted to voltages up to 6-9V our so, which seems to be where it switches from uncomfortable to painful for many.

      I.e. you may get as electrocuted as if you touch both poles on a 9V battery. Don't touch the fork to your eyeball, and you should be fine. Which goes for a regular fork too.

      • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Monday April 04, 2016 @06:39AM (#51836889)

        ahem [merriam-webster.com]

        Full Definition of electrocute
                transitive verb
              1 : to execute (a criminal) by electricity
              2 : to kill by electric shock

        Notice that the definition of electrocute involves dying? When you say "mild electrocution", you're saying "mildly dead", which doesn't really make a lot of sense.

        You're welcome to use the word as you want, of course (that's one of the fundamental things that makes English a living language) but when someone else is using the word, you need to be aware of the dictionary meaning of the word or communication suffers.

        That having been said, electricity takes the path of least resistance. The only way the path between the tines of the fork will be through your heart or the nerves that drive your heart will be if the fork has been stabbed into your heart or your spine or, I suppose, just the right bit of your brain. In all three cases, you have much bigger and more lethal problems than the minuscule amount of current between the tines of the fork.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          Full Definition of electrocute
          transitive verb
          1 : to execute (a criminal) by electricity
          2 : to kill by electric shock

          Notice that the definition of electrocute involves dying? When you say "mild electrocution", you're saying "mildly dead", which doesn't really make a lot of sense.

          It's not that clear cut [visualthesaurus.com].

        • That's a pretty antiquated usage. Though I find the simpler "shocked" to be more common, I work in the electronics industry and people use "electrocute" more or less interchangeably. At the very least, they use it do describe fatal accidents and not just purposeful killing. The dictionary should be updated to reflect the modern usage.

          • by quenda ( 644621 )

            I work in the electronics industry and people use "electrocute" more or less interchangeably.

            You are probably already all too aware of this, but you work with idiots.

            • Maybe, but there are more of them than there are us!

              But seriously, this word was invented by Edison to scare people away from AC power. Almost immediately, people started using it to mean "shock" or "killed with a shock" rather than "executed by AC power". Etymology does not always win. Imagine if Steve Jobs invented a word which meant "killed while texting on an Android while driving". Would people really be defending his usage of the word over the colloquial usage that would surely take over?

              • by quenda ( 644621 )

                You seem to think everyone uses the word that way. I'm not sure that applies everywhere, and its worth being pedantic sometimes, especially where life and death are concerned.
                When you see a sign saying "Danger of Electrocution" , it does not mean you might get a zap.

        • by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Monday April 04, 2016 @07:26AM (#51837123)

          When you say "mild electrocution", you're saying "mildly dead", which doesn't really make a lot of sense.

          Unless you're watching Princess Bride, that is.

        • When you say "mild electrocution", you're saying "mildly dead", which doesn't really make a lot of sense.

          You're right. It would be better if he just said that he's "mostly dead". There's a big difference between MOSTLY dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do.

        • The only way the path between the tines of the fork will be through your heart

          You're assuming that the electricity passes from one tine to another. The summary says:

          It features a conductive handle that completes a circuit when the tines make contact with a diner's tongue

          And the picture in TFA shows all the tines are part of a solid piece of metal. So the electricity is passing from the tongue through the body and arm to the hand. So it may pass through the heart.

        • When you say "mild electrocution", you're saying "mildly dead", which doesn't really make a lot of sense.

          There might be a few skin cells that are dead dead, but the human body as a whole is only extremely mildly dead as a result.

        • "you need to be aware of the dictionary meaning of the word"

          http://www.oxforddictionaries.... [oxforddictionaries.com] and http://www.oxforddictionaries.... [oxforddictionaries.com]
          "Injure or kill someone by electric shock", which clearly includes non-fatal interactions.

          Is The Oxford English Dictionary insufficiently authoritative for you?

    • Uh, that's actually by design. It's supposed to shock you to simulate salt/sour sensations. Without shocking you, it doesn't work.
  • It is also known.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Monday April 04, 2016 @05:48AM (#51836745)

    That not enough sodium in your diet can be detrimental to one's health.
    And more importantly, not enough Iodine, depending on location, can be pretty bad also.

    Bring on the Iodised salt!

    Come on people, is it that complicated? everything in moderation, and a well rounded and balanced diet?

    Of course, if they can invent a Chocolate fork... I suspect they will do well.

    • That not enough sodium in your diet can be detrimental to one's health.

      No worries. To address this concern, they're already planning to release Electric Fork 2, the salt-coated version.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekmux ( 1040042 )

      That not enough sodium in your diet can be detrimental to one's health. And more importantly, not enough Iodine, depending on location, can be pretty bad also.

      Bring on the Iodised salt!

      Come on people, is it that complicated? everything in moderation, and a well rounded and balanced diet?

      Walk into any building that sells food on this planet and ask where the low-sodium-soy-free-non-MSG-no-additives-no-preservatives-no-growth-hormones-no-HFCS isle is. Is it that complicated for you to grasp the concept that "people" didn't choose to put all this shit into what manufacturers like to call "food" today?

      Everything in moderation? Yeah, I agree. Now let me know when the food processing industry is going to "moderate" their flavor of capitalism that caused the creation of an electric fork.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It isn't going to happen until you (the consumer) start paying for it.

        Raising livestock without antibiotics and anabolic steroids isn't profitable;
        Raising produce without pesticides isn't profitable;
        Getting livestock or produce into a consumers hands without preservatives isn't profitable;
        Selling a product that hasn't been pumped full of flavor enhancers and additives to meet consumer expectations isn't profitable;

        Running a business without turning a profit isn't... ?

        • This! Look, when people lambast 'capitalism', what their distain is really towards is the collective unconscious will of the population that steer market trends in a direction that he/she don't agree with. Take salt and sugar for example; the only reason why they're found in unhealthy quantities is for two primary reasons, taste and as a good preservative. Sales numbers don't lie. When the numbers are ran, against individual items over a period of time, one can deduce and potentially forecast the effect of

      • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Monday April 04, 2016 @06:56AM (#51836967)

        Walk into any building that sells food on this planet and ask where the low-sodium-soy-free-non-MSG-no-additives-no-preservatives-no-growth-hormones-no-HFCS isle is.

        You don't even have to ask. Just use some common sense.

        Start with the fresh produce department, where the bulk of what you should be eating should be coming from anyway.

        Rice of all sorts, quinoa, wheat, oats and other grains are also readily available and contain none of the things you listed, so you can get some variety in your carbohydrates if you're tired of potatoes and yams.

        For protein, most stores will have at least half a dozen different types of dried beans. If you don't want to eat a vegetarian diet, it's not hard to find meat and eggs produced without growth hormones, antibiotics and so forth.

        In other words, the only reason you're stuck with all the stuff you've listed in your food is because you're choosing to buy products that contain all that stuff. Buy the ingredients and cook your own food and you get to choose what goes into it.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          This all assumes that you have the time, energy and funds to prepare your own food. Before you protest that it's cheaper, it isn't. Prepared food just needs heating, often in a microwave or a simple oven, and can be eaten out of packaging (so less cleaning up required). Cooking stuff from scratch requires utensils, pots and pans, maybe a gas or electric hob, more storage space for it all, more cleaning afterwards, and of course the know-how to actually do it. If you want variety you need to spend time plann

          • This all assumes that you have the time, energy and funds to prepare your own food. Before you protest that it's cheaper, it isn't.

            Not my experience.

            I rarely eat out, because I can't afford it.

            Shopping takes me an hour a week.

            Cooking takes me less an hour a day, usually while I am doing something else at the same time.

            Granted, I have a dishwasher, but clean-up is insignificant.

            Pots, pans, dishes, and utensils can be had for pennies from Goodwill.

            In my opinion, not cooking is a choice based on being able to afford not to, not having the interest to learn how to boil water, or living under a bridge.

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        The problem is that most of these additives are actually not at all dangerous to people either short or long term. It's the health food industry that wants you to be scared of it but just like homeopathy which you'll find in the same isles there is no evidence to it. Yes, lots of HFCS will cause diabetes but so will the raw cane sugar in similar amounts. A lot of these "additives" are equally found in vegetables and fruits occurring naturally, anyone who is scared of sugar-replacers like aspartame should ne

        • strawberries that have aspartame in much higher dosages

          citation needed.

          • by guruevi ( 827432 )

            Sorry, wrong fruit in translation/memory. It's apricots and banana's that are high in phenylalanine. From American Cancer Society: Aspartame is made by joining together the amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are found naturally in many foods.

            • Right, but none of them contain aspartame (thermodynamics and all), as phenylalanine is a metabolite. I'm sure none of that's a relevant distinction, since most of the negative health claims against aspartame have everything to do with it breaking down in your body (other than maybe insulin response).

    • The problem is processed foods, which tend have tons of salt added (for preservative purposes). Home cooking can easily be well-seasoned without actually containing excessive amounts of sodium.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Salt makes stuff taste better. Now we can have the taste without the salt, so moderation is easier. I don't see any cause for complaint.

      I'm gonna try this next time I'm in Tokyo.

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      Most people in the industrialized world get plenty of sodium in their diets. If you are worried have a coke.

      That said most of us get so much sodium from processed foods and beverages such as soda that anything we might add at the dinner table is pretty negligible. Putting a little table on your asparagus really isn't much of a factor in your dietary sodium intake, so saith my physician.

      So I am not sure what folks hope to accomplish with this fork. On the other hand if we could easily electrically stimula

    • It is surprising that the Japanese invented a tech that solves problems in Brazil. The minimum amount of iodide in salt recommended by the FDA is the top amount accepted in Brazil. A small increase in the 2000s caused an increase of incidence of Hashimoto hypothyroidism. Excess salt may not seem like a problem for you, but where I live high blood pressure is rampant.
    • I doubt that anyone in North America or Europe outside of a few eccentric hermits is at danger from too little Sodium. It's added to just about everything you don't grow yourself. Try to plan a low Sodium diet someday.

      OTOH I object to the usual sloppy Slashdot editing. "It's common knowledge that excess sodium can be detrimental to one's health.". Hogwash. The danger of Sodium to anyone except possibly a relatively small number of Sodium sensitive hypertensives is, in fact quite controversial. It shou

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        There's been plenty of studies to suggest that large amounts of salt causes problems but since we eat a combination of foods it's possible that for those people the salt was accompanied by large amounts of bacon.
      • On average they outlive just about everyone else on the planet.

        That is what I also thought - but it is BS. What was actually happening is people were not reporting when their elderly relatives passed on. The reason - to continue collecting old-age pension checks. This typically occurred in the more rural mountain communities leading to the assumption that a rural mountain life was a healthy one. Turns out this is not true. And now that the government is aware of the problem it gets abused far less and the statistics are being corrected.

    • everything in moderation

      The problem is that most Americans don't really know what moderation is.

      Ignorance/poor education/watching too many commercials lead to 'moderation is only 3-5 oreos per meal, right?'

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      Personally I don't feel right unless I get a couple times the RDA of sodium. But then, if I want I can add it myself -- it's somewhat harder to remove it, so I'd say we're probably best off with the minimum amount of salt needed to act as a preservative/offset scarier preservatives.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      That not enough sodium in your diet can be detrimental to one's health.
      And more importantly, not enough Iodine, depending on location, can be pretty bad also.

      Bring on the Iodised salt!

      Come on people, is it that complicated? everything in moderation, and a well rounded and balanced diet?

      Of course, if they can invent a Chocolate fork... I suspect they will do well.

      It's actually the case where the vast majority of people take in more than enough sodium for their daily needs by two to three times. Or exceeding

    • The risk profile is different though.

      A) Too much salt - 0.5% increase in blood pressure sometime in the next 30 years with a statistically insignificant effect on health
      B) Too little salt - Death. Right now.

    • While that is a valid point, it depends on the typical diet for the target audience, and this is Japan we're talking about. Using this fork may be their way of trying to make "Lite" soy sauce taste like regular.

    • by ffkom ( 3519199 )
      Chocolate cutlery? Of course already invented: http://jkvnl.com/index.php/en/... [jkvnl.com]
  • In post-lost-decades Japan, cattle prods you.

  • by darthsilun ( 3993753 ) on Monday April 04, 2016 @06:39AM (#51836893)
    ISTR hearing about new research showing that the amount of salt in your diet has little to no effect on coronary heart disease.

    While we're on the subject, the amount of fat in your diet has been shown to have no effect on blood cholesterol levels.

    Not that I'm suggesting you consume salt by the bucketful or anything.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Very much this.

      The links between salt consumption and disease is only apparent in a small number of people that seem to have some sensitivity to salt.
      These people have an underlying condition(s) that has remained un-diagnosed for decades because of a horribly flawed STUDY (one, ONE!) that was never re-tested until recently, where it was ripped apart.

      I've known people to actually eat salt in massive amounts and he is 86 this year.
      No heart issues. No high blood pressure.
      He had a minor stroke. Want to know w

  • by PPalmgren ( 1009823 ) on Monday April 04, 2016 @07:17AM (#51837079)

    There's a lot of cynics here, but this kind of thing is great for someone who needs sodium regulation, especially the elderly. Simulated taste could also help a lot of people work towards a healthier lifestyle.

  • If you look at the labs homepage you see they're doing all kinds of things related to human augmentation, telepresence and human-machine interaction. The stuff ranges from the silly ("hoverball": use a small drone as an active ball in sports) to the useful ("Expressive typing": read the accelerometer in hard drives to estimate keyboard typing force). This fork is probably more about exploring what is possible to achieve rather than trying to solve a particular problem.

    With that said, there are people that

  • Salty Fork? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RivenAleem ( 1590553 ) on Monday April 04, 2016 @07:51AM (#51837227)

    Would this not just make the fork taste salty? Once the food is deposited and you start chewing, the salty flavour will be gone and your food will feel like it needs salt.

  • Isn't this exactly why we like the Japanese? It's not just the cute style of cartooning or the way their lounge singers can imitate Elvis, no, it's not just the Tamagotchi or Paro the interactive "healing pet" seal, no it's not even Hello Kitty or Pikachu or the slightly scary Funassyi. What it is, is *kawaii*, Japanese for 'cute'.

    Nobody asked for these things. They don't fill a need. But they make the world a better place.

  • There's already a long thread about how likely this device would be to kill you (the consensus seems to be "not very, unless you're holding it in your mouth while BASE jumping"). But I'm wondering whether regular use would do some sort of permanent damage to the taste buds. Like, after you use it for a couple of years, you can no longer really taste salt under any circumstances.

    I am not a neurologist.

  • I'll wait until they have a miniaturized version that can be built-in in a piercing stud for the tongue, to make everything taste sweet, or sour or umami or salty, selectable by smartphone.

    Perhaps we will have downloadable tastes for any crap we want to eat.

  • Does it feel like putting your tongue on a nine volt battery?

  • Wow. Just wow.

    Absolute elimination of stray voltage from livestock buildings has been the (sometimes elusive) goal of electrical designers for as long as livestock buildings have been supplied with electricity, and now we're inducing tingle voltages on purpose??

    I guess cows know to stop drinking when they feel the tingle of electricity. People? Not so much...

  • "It's common knowledge that excess sodium can be detrimental to one's health."

    Actually, wrong, except in the absolute form of "too much" is "too much". The reality is different people have different sensitivities to sodium. Recent research shows that for some people it is a problem while for others it is not a problem.

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

      You said he's wrong but as far as I can see you agree. "can be detrimental". Sounds kinda conditional.

      Personally I don't see the point of a fork that "tastes" salty, unless I'm the only one that hasn't been licking cutlery...

      • by pubwvj ( 1045960 )

        What I disagree with is the way that people over generalize the statement. They go from the true meaning of excess to saying everyone's excess point is the same point and then trying to legislate that point. The reality is some people, such as myself, have a high salt tolerance and some people have low salt tolerances. That excess point varies with your heredity.

  • Our taste buds didn't originally exist for our pleasure, they were to tell the body about the food entering it, and it is still that way. If you give someone an artificial sweetener they will produce insulin. Our brains evolved to like some foods so that we would eat them. Artificial sweeteners mess up your response, and I would imagine what artificial salt taste sensations will mess us up in some similar way. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pu... [nih.gov] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pu... [nih.gov] Just eat a reasonable amou
  • Could this tech be added to dildo's possibly for flavor or other functions? LOL

    Sorry my mind went into the gutter as soon as they mentioned "salty flavor" lol

  • OK, chips are supposed to, but I mean food that you eat with a fork.

    One reason you cook with salt is that it suppresses bitter flavors. Electronically stimulating the taste buds might trigger a salty taste, but I wonder what it will do for suppressing bitter.

  • You mean that same salty/sour tingle you get when you put your tongue on a 9V battery? This is supposed to satiate a need for salt?

    morons

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