In another example of VR bleeding into real life, Cornell University food scientists found that cheese eaten in pleasant VR surroundings tasted better than the same cheese eaten in a drab sensory booth.
About 50 panelists who used virtual reality headsets as they ate were given three identical samples of blue cheese. The study participants were virtually placed in a standard sensory booth, a pleasant park bench and the Cornell cow barn to see custom-recorded 360-degree videos.
The panelists were unaware that the cheese samples were identical, and rated the pungency of the blue cheese significantly higher in the cow barn setting than in the sensory booth or the virtual park bench.
That’s right: cheese tastes better on a virtual farm versus inside a blank, empty cyberia.
“When we eat, we perceive not only just the taste and aroma of foods, we get sensory input from our surroundings – our eyes, ears, even our memories about surroundings,” said researcher Robin Dando.
To be clear, this research wasn’t designed to confirm whether VR could make food taste better but whether or not VR could be used as a sort of taste testbed, allowing manufacturers to let people try foods in different places without, say, putting them on an airplane or inside a real cow barn. Because food tastes differently in different surroundings, the ability to simulate those surroundings in VR is very useful.
“This research validates that virtual reality can be used, as it provides an immersive environment for testing,” said Dando. “Visually, virtual reality imparts qualities of the environment itself to the food being consumed – making this kind of testing cost-efficient.”
A beluga whale seen in the Thames for a second day is “swimming strongly and feeding normally”, the RSPCA has said.
The animal welfare charity said the whale, nicknamed Benny, had moved towards the estuary, and there were no major concerns for its welfare.
It was first spotted around barges in the Thames on Tuesday near Gravesend.
Rescue teams have been on standby in case the animal, which is normally found thousands of miles away in the Arctic, gets into danger.
RSPCA spokeswoman Clare Dew said: “It appears to be feeding normally – it is not attempting to come anywhere near the banks and it is staying in the deep channel in the middle of the river.”
Conservationists said they hoped its instincts would soon kick in, and it would head out of the estuary and back north.
Ships in the river were being urged to keep clear, and the public has been asked not to take to the water to watch it.
Beluga whales can grow up to 20ft in length and are usually at home in the icy waters around Greenland, Svalbard or the Barents Sea.
‘Lost its way’
A spokeswoman for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue said it was sending a team to Gravesend to assess the whale’s condition.
Julia Cable, national co-ordinator for the conservation charity, said: “It’s possible that it lost its way after a navigational error, that it has taken a wrong turn. We haven’t got an idea about the health of the animal.”
Lucy Babey, head of science and conservation at Orca, a marine conservation charity, said: “This is the most southerly recording of a beluga in the UK.
“These animals can navigate in shallow coastal water so hopefully it will swim away.”
She said any noise in the water could impair its sophisticated sonar navigation system.
Tanya Ferry, environment manager at the Port of London Authority which is monitoring the whale, said the number of plastic bags in the River Thames could become an issue for the whale.
“We’re hoping if we give it enough space and keep an eye on it, it will find its own way out of the Thames to an environment that’s more appropriate for it.
“We certainly don’t want people trying to rescue it.”