Smartphone Camera Tells You What Any Object Is Made Of

The technology is inspired by the “Tricorder” on Star Trek.
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The technology is inspired by the “Tricorder” on Star Trek.
Photo courtesy of Tel Aviv University

A first-generation demonstration system of the camera. (Photo courtesy of Tel Aviv University)

Curious to know the exact ingredients in your meal or drink without having to ask the waiter? At some point soon, your smartphone camera may be able to give you a thorough report.

A group of researchers at Tel Aviv University is currently developing technology that analyzes the composition of objects with the help of compact hyperspectral imagining. The process involves scanning bands of light spectrum invisible to the human eye in order to determine an object’s “chemical fingerprint” within the electromagnetic spectrum, which is used to identify the materials that make up the object.

The technology has already been successfully proven using larger cameras, but the Tel Aviv team hopes to make it more compact so that it can be built into smartphones. Once the object has been scanned for its chemical fingerprint, image-processing software is then used to search through an image library for its match, which can provide information about the object’s composition. The compact hyperspectral imaging could also work with video as well, said David Mendlovic, a professor at Tel Aviv University’s School of Electrical Engineering.

According to the Tel Aviv University news page, the inspiration for the technology comes from Star Trek’s fictional “Tricorder”—a small device that could “sense, compute and record data in a threatening and unpredictable universe.” Beyond offering a unique way to analyze your food and drinks, the compact hyperspectral technology has uses for both the public and private sector. A few examples include identifying the properties of crops as well as being used for industrial quality control or homeland security.

According to Gizmag, a working prototype is currently in development under the name Unispectral and should be completed by June.