When people say technology can give us superpowers, they usually don’t mean actual superpowers. After all, technology can’t give us superhuman strength, turn us invisible or help us to levitate things.

Ok, so maybe they can help us levitate things. That’s because in recent years, researchers have figured out ways to levitate items with acoustic energy and, just this month, a group from the SCHI Lab at the University of Sussex published a paper showing what they describe as a “contactless food delivery system” that applies this technique to food.

Called TastyFloats, the systems works as follows:”two-phased arrays of low-cost ultrasonic transducers opposite each other form a standing wave of ultrasound between them, and very small amounts of liquids and solids can be suspended in the nodes of the wave. Changing the phase can move these nodes in three dimensions, pulling the contents along with it, and allowing the materials to be transported in 3D space as long as they stay between the arrays.”

You can watch TastyFloats in action here:

One of the goals of the research was to study how acoustic levitation impacted taste perception. Variability in temperature, air pressure and altitude all have an impact on how taste is perceived; for example, beer taste is amplified while saltiness is suppressed on airplanes. The researchers tested different flavor characteristics such as sweetness, bitterness and umami (aka savory) by delivering food morsels via levitation and through a pipette.

The result? The researchers found subtle variations in flavor intensity and that overall food taste characteristics were more intense when delivered via levitation rather than through a plastic tube.

Real world applications for food levitation are hard to wrap the mind around. The researchers suggest a few, including chef-designed levitated food experiences in which the various food ingredients land on the diner’s tongue in a preferred order.  That seems a bit far-fetched, but one can also see how culinary innovators exploring the edges might be excited about the possibility of entirely new experiences with levitation.

A more practical application not mentioned by the researchers is using levitation to help people who have difficulty feeding themselves. One can envision how elderly, handicapped and other special needs could use this contactless – or “hands-less” – feeding technology to feed themselves.

No matter what form this technology takes, you have to admit food levitation is pretty cool. Now if we could just figure out the invisibility thing.

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