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that meets the requirements for the optical performance.’ It will be around three years before the system

will be ready for introduction to the market. Grüger believes that the first spectrometers marketed to consumers for food-checking will be in a different form: ‘I do not think the very next device will be a mobile phone, but some kind of handheld, integrated system with a similar platform.’ TellSpec has been developing such a product. Due to enter the market in September, the product will be small enough to fit on a key chain and will be able to identify calories, macronutrients such as carbohydrates, as well as allergens, chemicals and other nutritional information. From a coeliac who needs to avoid gluten, to a person wanting to count calories or carbohydrates, this device could be highly beneficial to a large variety of consumers. The system will consist of a handheld

spectrometer, a unique cloud-based algorithm created by Dr Stephen Watson, CTO at TellSpec, and a smart phone app. The data is uploaded to the Cloud – which processes the information, compares it to pre-set food fingerprints, interprets the results and downloads the information to a smart phone. Having completed the first round of investment, the team is in the process of dealing with the miniaturisation of the hardware and configuring a beta design. A variety of Raman and non-Raman spectrometers supplied by different companies have been tested, but a final choice has yet to be made on the spectrometer and manufacturing company that will be used for the final device. ‘We’ve tested several spectrometers and our algorithms performed very well with all of them,’ said Isabel

TellSpec’s handheld spectrometer is planned for release in September. Users will be able to identify calories, allergens and other nutritional information

Hoffmann, Tellspec CEO. ‘In the next month we are making a decision regarding who our main optics manufacturing partner will be and we have narrowed it down to two companies.’ The light source is a key factor, according to

Hoffman: ‘We would prefer not to use a laser because there would be less safety concerns – whether to use a laser or not is the choice we have to make.’ Tests are being carried out to check that the algorithms will work with the proposed broad bandwidth light source, and to test its feasibility within the final product. ‘We have tested the devices at the actual two locations of our potential partners. We had to go a little bit backwards because of the possibility of having no laser involved, but it is worth taking the time if we can achieve this.’ The production capacity of the two companies will also affect the decision, even though it is likely that some of the manufacturing will have to be outsourced.

‘Although the companies we are in discussions

Ocean Optics’ IDRaman mini can be used in to inspect food samples at different stages of production


with are large and very solid in the industry, they are simply not geared up to supply 5,000 to 10,000 spectrometers in such a short amount of time,’ explained Hoffman. ‘It would be great if the company we decide to work with will be able to produce this number of units at once – but I don’t think it really exists. So, we will have to outsource some of the manufacturing portion, likely from an Asian company geared up for large assembly.’ However, handheld spectrometers are generally less suited to large-scale food production, because of highly variable samples and difficulties in focusing. To make a handheld device more robust for these types of applications, Ocean Optics has developed a spectrometer that can be used to inspect inhomogeneous food samples at different

stages of production. The IDRaman mini has been named as a finalist for the SPIE Prism Awards 2014. ‘Normally, with samples such as rice where you have food particles that are spaced oddly or are an odd size, focusing becomes difficult with handheld instruments,’ said Dr Michael Allen, director of marketing and product development at Ocean Optics. The sampling technique in the device, raster orbital scanning (ROS), overcomes these difficulties by scanning a tightly focused beam in an orbital pattern, allowing data to be collected from a larger area of the sample. ‘By scanning over a larger area – something that’s millimetres in diameter as opposed to microns – you will get a better picture of what’s going on in the food sample.’ An additional complementary technique that is currently under development by Ocean Optics is surface enhanced Raman (SER), which uses a substrate to enhance weak Raman signals and produce stronger peaks in the presence of a particular compound. The advances in sampling allow the handheld device to provide increasingly reliable analysis that is comparable to a bench-top Raman system. ‘These technologies are going to make it easier for someone to analyse a box of food with a Raman spectrometer and SERs and get reliable data, instead of having to sample multiple times, or go back to the lab, which makes the sampling process very inconvenient,’ explained Allen. ‘That’s really been the driving force of our Raman products in the food market – although it is still early days for us.’ So, how is it that handheld spectrometers are able to give the same performance as a laboratory- based machine, but at a fraction of the size and cost? Better manufacturing processes and miniaturisation of components have been major factors, according to Allen: ‘Technologies such

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