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Robot E-Tongue Knows More About Beer than You

Beer tasting
Beer tasting
Flickr/Lindsey Gira

You know that red muscle that hides behind your teeth? The thing with more bumps than one of Peter Jackson's dwarves? The thing that Miley Cyrus can't keep from spilling out? It may soon be obsolete. At least in the world of beer tasting.

A group of Barcelona researchers have developed a prototype robot "tongue" that can identify different types of beer with an accuracy rate of 82%, according to a study published in Food Chemistry. The tongue looks more like an analog synthesizer than something out of Alien.

Its 21 electrodes contain "cationic and anionic sensors" capable of detecting the chemical composition of a sample. Then the tongue cross-references that data with what the tongue has been "taught" about the chemistry of specific beer types. It can distinguish between five kinds of beer: lager, Schwarzbier, double malt, Pilsen, Alsatian, and low-alcohol beer. You, on the other hand, can tell the difference between Pabst and Schlitz. Or at least you thought you could at one point in college when you had consumed too much of either.

Email allows us to communicate much faster than we could in the era of stamps and envelopes. Shopping online saves us time and sometimes money. What will the e-tongue do for us?

In an NPR piece about the tongue, Manel del Valle, one of the study's authors and a roboticist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, imagined that brewers could eventually use the technology for "quality control." De Valle also said he was partnering with forensic scientists to tailor his future robot tongue innovations to the needs of crime scene investigators.

Now that's a cop show we look forward to.


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