Tech Briefing: Singing Gloves, Inhalable Caffeine, and Edible Bottles

By Vivian Cheng, Luke Quarto, Talia Beechick

Project DIVA

Professor Sidney Fels and a team of electrical and computer engineers at the University of British Columbia have developed a pair of gloves that can read hand gestures and convert them into song and speech. The Digital Ventriloquized Actor (or DIVA) is designed to replicate human speech through hand gestures. The hope is the gloves will facilitate communication for those who cannot communicate verbally.

Each hand gesture the user makes is read as a different sound. Each glove has different, discrete functions to match the countless intricate vocalizations made by a human mouth during speech. When the right hand is open the right glove will make a vowel sound. This is easy for users to remember, since making vowel sounds in conversation requires the speaker to open the throats and lips. When the hand is closed, the glove makes consonant sounds. On the other side, the left glove makes stop consonant sounds, such as ‘p’ and ‘b’ when the fingers are touched together.

Project Diva Singing glove

The DIVA can even carry a tune with its Darth Vader-like voice. The glove is equipped with 3D sensors that allow the right glove to “see” if you’re in a 3D pitch. Singers can raise or lower their hands to change the pitch of their glove and a foot pedal controls the volume.

But don’t expect to strap on a pair and start belting out a southpaw-only rendition of Carmen; learning to use DIVA is like learning to speak any other way – it requires an incredible amount of practice. The engineers at UBC say that an estimated 100 hours of practice is needed to master all the sounds the glove can make.

Besides the obvious and amazing potential of DIVA to change the lives of millions of the speech and hearing impaired by offering them a life without interpreters, Fels hopes the device will help someday offer operators a better way control heavy machinery.

And, of course, there is an app for that. Or rather, there will be, at least for Fels; he is working on controlling DIVA from a tablet.

Aeroshot

Aeroshot inhalable caffeine spray

David Edwards, Harvard professor and chairman of Breathable Foods is a bit like Willy Wonka, transforming conventional flavors into strange and fantastic forms. Where Mr. Wonka created rivers of chocolate and entire meals from chewing gum (poor Violet), Edwards has invented breathable chocolate, coffee, and caffeine. These aerosol confections have people all over the world buzzing, quite literally.

Edwards’ dream was to create an entirely new way of experiencing the highs of a cup of coffee or an iced tea. The caffeine in Aeroshot is mixed with B vitamins and kept in a small plastic container roughly the size of a tube of lipstick. The consumer pops open the end of the contraption and “whiffs” lightly to receive an instantaneous energy boost. There are around 100 mg of caffeine (the amount of a large cup of coffee) and 8-10 whiffs per tube.

Despite the company name “Breathable Foods”, the finely ground powder within the chamber is not inhaled into the lungs but sucked gently onto the tongue where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. The particles are small enough to dissolve in the mouth, but too large to be inhaled into the lungs.

Looking for the Aeroshot at your local store? Not so fast. The FDA has issued a warning letter to Breathable Foods, Inc. for mislabeling Aeroshot as a dietary supplement, which face much lower testing and restrictions. There has also been discontinuity between the marketing of the product via the website and on the product label itself; spokesmen for the company recommend that no one under the age of 18 consume Aeroshot, while the labeling suggests the ages of 12 and older. Controversy surrounding this breathable energy source stems partially from concerns about kids using Aeroshot as a party drug.

Aeroshot Inhalable Caffeine spray retail packaging

Although attracting the FDA’s ire is never a good thing, caffeine pills and energy drinks are widely available and have been used with abandon by teens and adults for years. Caffeine pills are much cheaper than Aeroshot and deliver twice the amount of caffeine per pill; energy drinks have no limitations on the amount of caffeine or supplements that can be pushed into each can.

Can we expect to see people around the world ditching their daily java for the powdery inhalation of airborne caffeine? It’s too early to say. The product is only available in New York, Massachusetts and France, and for sale online; while the idea is novel, some consumers are turned off by the limey aftertaste. I say nothing beats a good strong cuppa joe.

Edible Bottles

Harvard researchers are creating biodegradable shells, or membranes, which can taste like the food and drink they contain. Though still a work in progress, researchers hope these edible bottles will become available in restaurants as novelty items in the near future, later expanding to supermarkets and specialty stores.

French designer Francois Azambourg is working with biomedical engineer Dr. David Edwards of Harvard’s Wyss Institute, inventor of “Le Whif” (inhalable chocolate) and, yes, the “Aeroshot”, to create edible, portable containers for food and drink. The main ingredient of these containers is “WikiCells”, an edible, water-resistant material made of biodegradable plastic and food particles which forms a hard shell or membrane.

edible bottles and food containers

This membrane is held together by electrostatic forces strong enough to retain contents. Its creators have already taken advantage of this, creating an orange-flavored membrane filled with orange juice, a tomato-flavored container with gazpacho, a chocolate-flavored membrane to hold hot chocolate, and a grape-flavored shell matched with wine.

Although Dr. Edwards believes this product will soon be available as a novelty item in restaurants, he hopes it spreads into supermarkets as it gains popularity. His ultimate goal, however, is to construct a WikiCells machine which would allow the public to create their own edible membranes with the food and drink of their choice.

From an environmental point of view, this would decrease our dependency on plastic and the need for recycling through the development of non-plastic portable containers, bottles and even lunch boxes. This would reduce the large amounts of solid waste sitting in landfills due to food and beverage packaging and our reliance on plastic as a main packaging material.

Although it is a very environmentally friendly solution to the serious waste issues we face, there is definitely the question of how sanitary this product will be. Experts would need to develop a stronger, tougher version of the current membranes which could be washed and sanitized before consumed to protect from germs.

If you must have them now (and have plenty of reward miles), The Lab Store in Paris offers samples of these experimental edible containers for those who are daring enough to try them out! So far, feedback has been positive and researchers continue to develop the product to hopefully ready it for enterprising restaurants soon!

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