consumer physics

15.04.2015

Mobile technology for identifying what things are made of: will food labels become obsolete?

Imagen | Consumer Physics

Shopping can turn into a risky sport for people with celiac disease, food allergies or those sensitive to certain chemicals. As much as these people may make an effort to read labels, food packaging does not always include a complete list of ingredients, even though some ingredients can cause serious problems for many people, even in the smallest quantities.

Technologies now exist that could help those who need to know all of the ingredients in the foods they consume — even though they weren’t originally designed for that purpose. During the last edition of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the attendees got to know one of them: a gadget called SCiO, which resembles the legendary tricorder from Star Trek.

consumer_physics_mobile_device

The device was the idea of Israeli Dror Sharon (CEO and the founder of Consumer Physics) developed thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that raised financing. It is the size of a USB and is in fact an infrared spectrometer, an appliance similar to those used in scientific laboratories to confirm the presence of some element or compound, and to measure its concentration based on its optical properties.

The scanner analyzes the materials placed in the infrared light beam it emits. It measures different characteristics of the molecules and, via Bluetooth, transmits the information to an application installed on a smartphone. This tool compares the data with that stored in the cloud database to link each measurement to the corresponding chemical, and the app reports the result. The more complete the registry is, the more compounds the device can detect.

Apart from detecting allergens in food, SCiO can be used to see if the food is bad, to assess its nutritional value and calories, and to examine drugs or cosmetics.

consumer physics

Imagen | Consumer Physics

Again in Israel, though this time at the Universidad de Tel Aviv, a group of scientists have designed another type of mobile technology to identify chemicals present in any material. It consists of two parts; the first one is a sensor that also works as a spectrometer, developed in collaboration with the company Unispectral Technologies. The second is a program that uses the camera of a smartphone to measure the optical variables that characterize different chemical compounds.

Both of these Israeli creations are still growing, but Consumer Physics has announced that SCiO (and its associated application) may start selling in June this year. If the system works for any chemical compound, will we be able to do away with food labels?