Scientist develops robotic somellier

Spending your day tasting the finest wines and alcoholic beverages is perhaps the ideal job for most.

But the chances to become a professional boozehound may be drawing to a close with a new sensory system being developed at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona.

A research team there has managed to cobble together what they term an ‘electronic tongue’ that is able to identify different types of cava.

The robotic sommelier is able to utilise a combination of sensor systems and “advanced mathematical procedures” to give an analysis of the variety.

Whether it is also programmed to lecture you at great length on grape varieties like most wine-bores is unclear at this stage however.

With the drink varying in type due to the amount of sugar added to produce the carbonic gas, it can discern between different types.

The classifications are as follows: Brut Nature (<3 g/L, no sugar added), Extra Brut (<6 g/L), Brut (<12 g/L), Extra Dry (12-17 g/L), Dry (17-35 g/L), Medium-Dry (33-50 g/L) and Sweet (>50 g/L).

The researchers from the UAB Group of Sensors and Biosensors set out to try and identify a number of different samples using “voltammetric measurements”.

The team aimed to replicate the human taste system and obtain a classification similar to that of a sommelier.

The device works by obtaining chemical information from samples of the cava in the same way that human sense would do so.

After that the perception of taste is worked by a computerised system to tell what the taste corresponded with. And it was then possible using mathematical procedures to quantify the amount of sugar added in the cava production.

However it was only able to do so for Brut, Brut Nature and medium dry, the researchers found out.

With a bit of practice they reckon that it will be possible to train up the system’s palate to understand more of the varieties, before presumably unleashing it on a bottle of Blue Nun.

TechEye caught up with lead researcher Manel del Valle who told us a bit about how the device might be used in the future.
“Mainly the application will be in some kind of automated surveillance of the production process – let’s say in a bottling machine from a wine producer,” he told us.

“It would perform automatic test that the lot of production is getting as expected, that is, without any defects. With this aim, it may be a replacement for the sensory panel (a group of trained people ) used by many food/beverage companies.”

But he reckons the traditional humanoid sommelier won’t be replaced any time soon.

“The sommelier will be always the one with personal treatment, let’s say in the restaurant – this personal treatment will be never replaced by a machine.”
He tells us that while the device is not yet commercialised there are a number of firms looking at similar projects.

And he reckons that the technology could be used on a wider range of drinks.

“Yes, actually you need to train the thing. You need to show samples, like a kid, and once trained , it tells you what a new sample looks like or  resembles. Then it can be trained for almost any thought situation, you just need that the sensors notice some difference, and a correct training.”