I used to be a bartender and have tasted (and worn) my fair share of beer. Though, I’ve never had drone delivery me a beer, or moon beer, I still have some beer-drinking days left in me, so you never know. While I’m no connoisseur, I’m pretty sure I could distinguish between a pale ale and an amber ale, or between a Guinness and a Murphy’s (I learned to drink in Ireland) while blind-folded. I find it kind of surprising that no college drinking games tested that theory. Or maybe I was just waiting for technology to catch up to me, which it now has—there’s an electronic tongue that can tell a hefeweizen from a pilsner from a lager.
Researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (a name that makes the university itself sound like a robot) developed the electronic tongue. They performed a taste study and published their results in Food Chemistry. Their data includes the impressive performance of The Tongue, which could successfully tell the difference between types of beers 82% of the time. I’m sure that’s better than I could do, but that’s only because The Tongue doesn’t get drunk at the same time it tastes. The upshot is that such a device could perform quality control for food and beverage companies. This is one of those jobs that it seems robots will be taking from humans, but I can see the advantages. The Tongue can performs taste tests any time day or night. It doesn’t guard its weekends and never throws up, no matter how nasty an experimental brew.
The Tongue has a bunch of sensors that detect the chemical components in a sample. It then checks the components in its database, aligning what it knows about beers with what the sensors tell it. In the study, researchers focused on five types of beer, and The Tongue was best at distinguishing between those five. When they gave it something outside of that training, The Tongue was a bit baffled—apparently this happened when The Tongue tried a shandy made of beer and lemonade.
As The Tongue tastes more varieties of brew, it adds that knowledge to its databank, and improves its ability to identify beers. The researchers will continue to work on The Tongue, adjusting its data-processing capabilities. While this invention would currently be most useful when it comes to beverages, the same principles could be used to enable it to “taste” pharmaceuticals and other compounds, such as gunpowder. It might seem weird to see an electronic tongue licking a crime scene, but hey, whatever works, right? And I’m sure there’s a friendship in the future for The Tongue and Asahi Robocco.