Food Whisper is an experimental design of alternative food experience. It uses food as the medium to carry data along with a specialized bone conduction device. It allows people to access audio data privately and immersively. This design explores the overlap of digesting both nutrition for physical needs as well as digital information people take in daily routine.
- Patent pending -
The initiation of this project came from an article about DNA-digital data storage while I was having breakfast one day. It talked about an emerging technology that allows scientists to store digital data like images, movies, audio on the DNA sequences. Data is encoded by ATCG instead of 0 and 1. I was really fascinated by this idea and instantly I threw myself several questions: What if the food we eat contains data? How might it change the food experience we used to have?
Having these questions in mind, I started to consider how to interpret this concept through design? Since even if we literally eat the food that carry digital data on the DNA sequences, there is no way we can understand them by eating. If so, is there anyway we can create a multi-sensory food experience that allows us to understand another layer of information? And what kind of scenario it could be?
Inspired by precedents such as Brainport V100, Eye Candy which provides electro-tactile stimulation on tongues allowing blind people to "see" as well as James Argur's conceptual Audio Tooth Implant, I decided to use bone conduction on the utensil to deliver the message so that while people are eating , they are able to perceive audio data without additional audio devices, which not only increase the delights of diet but also creates an immersive and private experience. Mechanism includes three steps:
1. Encode: The shape/pattern of the food is generated by an audio file. Food will be 3D printed or specially manufactured.
2: Decode: A wireless mini camera attached on the utensil captures the characteristic of food. Image gets processed and decoded back to the audio on the mobile application using computer vision.
3. Deliver: The audio file is delivered back to the utensil through wireless connection and bone conduction.
In order for people hearing through the utensil continuously, it is supposed to be something that people tend to keep contacting without being awkward. Also considering that bone conduction requires touching, which means that people have to keep biting in order to hear, I decided to move away from the form of spoon to straw. And at these time, I did another round research on alternative utensil design. Many of them are really inspiring and interesting. However, I decided to keep the shape similar to the form we are familiar with since my design goal focuses on delivering the concept of food containing data instead of making fancy appealing utensil. Then I started to think of whether the utensil is disposable or can be recycled. Considering the cost as well as users’ need, I wonder why not make it to a module that can be attached on any utensil (as long as it is hard enough due to the bone conduction mechanism) to make it an more accessible and universal implication? Therefore I bought some metal straw and tested with people. And the reflection was pretty good. For many of them, it was the first time they had such experience that children are laughing inside their mouth while they were eating jelly. The experience is private, immersive, just like something coming from your inside body.
Generative Food Design
And figuring out how to deliver the message, I started to think of the other side: how to encode the message into the food. Since food printing is getting popular while computer vision is getting more and more powerful for object/pattern recognition, I decided to make the shape of food as a sound visualization. I imported an audio file and map it on to a 5 by 5 matrix on the surface of the food to form the pattern which will be later decoded back to the audio data. And for material, I chose jelly for easy printing and "drinking' as well as quick prototyping.