Real Cookies Butt Heads With Virtual Ones

LOS ANGELES -- Between the crunch, the buttery feel in your mouth and the rich taste, cookies seem pretty perfect already. But they're not quite perfect enough for Takuji Narumi of Tokyo University. Here at the SIGGRAPH computer animation and interactive technology conference, Takuji and his team unveiled their Meta Cookie system, which uses virtual reality to try to control the flavor of a cookie.

The Meta Cookie system takes advantage of a principle that any good chef knows: We taste with our eyes and nose before any food enters our mouth. By replicating the image of a cookie of a particular flavor through a virtual reality headset, and then reproducing the scent of that cookie using special perfume tubes aimed at the nose, the Meta Cookie can trick the user’s brain into thinking that a flavorless sugar cookie is actually a chocolate or almond cookie.

To transform the cookie, the Meta Cookie uses augmented reality technology. A lab technician brands each cookie with an L-shaped marker that a computer can track. Looking through the virtual reality screens, the user sees a picture of a flavored cookie laid over the sight of the marker on the neutral sugar cookie. At the same time, the machine begins pumping the appropriate scent directly into the user’s nose through some tubes.

While combining scent with virtual reality creates a more immersive experience, the Meta Cookie system still leaves some doubts. In one test, with the image and scent trying to fool the brain into imagining maple and chocolate flavors, the sugar cookie still tasted mostly neutral.

No doubt, with more research the Tokyo University team can iron out many of the kinks. But when cookies are already perfectly delicious, why bring technology into the equation in the first place?

Stuart Fox currently researches and develops physical and digital exhibit experiences at the Science Liberty Center. His news writing includes the likes of several Purch sites, including Live Science and Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries.