A loving touch from the internet of rings

Mobile phones that can blow a kiss or waft a scent are coming out of the lab.

Adrian Cheok electronic taste lollipop

City University’s Professor Adrian Cheok tests out his taste sensor

Researchers in the UK are developing multi-sensory communication so that you can literally ‘blow a kiss’ to your loved one by pressing your lips to a dummy mouth made of silicone strapped to your phone.

When you ring up on your ‘kissophone’ the person who receives o your call will get a tingle of pressure on his or her mobile’s ‘mouth’ that sends the same electrical impulses to the brain as a physical kiss in real life. It’s the latest brainwave from Professor Adrian Cheok, who holds the Chair of Pervasive Computing at City University London.They call him the ‘Vampire Professor’ because he never seems to sleep at night. But his aim is to spread love around the world, using the Internet of Things to enhance communication between partners, friends and family who are far apart. Those ‘kissophone’ silicone lips are a prototype but they are sensitive to a wide range of different types of kiss. “It’s not just for couples or lovers . Suppose your grandmother has a birthday – wouldn’t it be lovely if you could send her a kiss on the cheek in real time over the Internet? A kiss is a very important form of communication for all sorts of relationships,” says Cheok.

Give them a ring


Adrian Cheok bringing in a new meaning to lip-sync

He has also created ‘hugging pyjamas’ so that a parent who is away from home can send a loving bedtime gesture to a child. And the next tactile gadget to take shape on the laboratory bench uses the same system, but miniaturised. It uses Bluetooth to connect the mobile phone to a ring worn on the finger, so that the user can send a signal to her partner’s ring that will feel like a light squeeze of the finger. The technology uses electrical impulses and haptic textiles for the sense of touch.


Re-creating taste and smell is more tricky, since these senses are activated by chemicals and it is not possible to transmit chemicals on a mobile phone signal. Early attempts at ‘Smell-o-vision” showed, however, that viewers who were told they could smell the items shown on the screen actually did claim to experience the odours – some even complained that the sting of raw onions made their eyes water, just from looking at the screen and with no chemicals or smells being produced anywhere near the TV set. That experiment dating back to April 1st 1965 is now archived in the online Museum of Hoaxes, A later trial by Bristol University psychologist Michael O’Mahony produced similar results in 1977 when he told late-night viewers in the Manchester region that their TV set was about to transmit a pleasant scent of the countryside, and asked for feedback. Viewers reported smelling hay, lavender and apple blossom and some complained that the ‘smell’ triggered hay fever. These early attempts at smell transmission proved only the power of psychological suggestion in convincing an audience that it is enjoying a sensory experience that has no basis in reality. Likewise when the Future Intelligence team took part in London’s first-ever multi-sensory fireworks display, the people who reported the strongest ‘fruit-flavoured’ fragrance form the fireworks were those who could see the screen flashing up images of strawberry, pineapple and so on.

Gourmet gumshield

Cheok, however, uses neither chemicals not psychological persuasion. His prototype device is worn in the mouth, like a gumshield used in contact sports, and beams a signal – again using Bluetooth – to the olfactory bulb. This is an area of the ‘lizard brain’ that detects smells and tastes. Professor Cheok’s software re-creates the electronic ‘signature’ of a particular taste or smell and stimulates the olfactory bulb, tricking it into believing it is smelling and tasting.

World’s top chef on the tip of your phone

pigsick (250 x 140)

Now pigs can fly – Iberian pigs tails in red wine sediment coming to a phone near you

So convincing is this new technology that world-famous Basque chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of the Mugaritz Restaurant in San Sebastian is working with Cheok to provide a gastronomic sensation of taste and smell that can be experienced through the restaurant’s website with dishes such as ‘crunchy terrine of Iberian pigs’ tails with a bunch of bitter leaves and red wine sediments’ or ‘Slices of foie gras cured in clay with Sechuan peppercorns on a bath of apple extract’.pigstailsThe electronic tasting machine or ‘lollyphone’ will receive the correct signals that allow your mind to re-create the smell and taste of those special dishes by touching the device with your tongue. (see photograph above). For an even better gastronomic sensation, Cheok is working with a Japanese scientist to create the authentic texture and mouth-feel of a dish, with experiments on different foods such as potato crisps and chocolate cake.


Hear Adrian Cheok filling in the theory behind his research on Future Intelligence’s Password Radio Programme on London’s Resonance FM 104.4fm – to listen to Password tune in on Wednesday afternoons between 3.30 – 4pm in the London area or listen again on the web.