Pocket power

Jessica Rowbury looks at the challenges of bringing spectroscopy to the consumer market, and whether we’re likely to see them being used by the public in the near future


hether it’s to check the quality of a bottle of wine, determine whether an organic apple is really pesticide-free, or even

self-diagnose a rash at home, consumer spectrometers could give the general public a range of new capabilities, as well as open up a huge market for spectroscopy. The idea of having a spectrometer that fits into a pocket or that’s integrated within a smartphone is an exciting prospect, but is it a realistic one? Some companies have been promising these types of devices for the last few years, but currently no such pocket spectrometer exists – or at least not one that can provide consumers with information that’s genuinely useful. Israel-based Consumer

Physics and Canadian firm TellSpec are two examples of crowdfunded companies offering portable analysers, but whose technology has yet to live up to expectations – TellSpec crowdsourced investment in 2013 but to date hasn’t released a device, while Consumer Physics’ SCiO instrument, which launched in 2016 raising $2.7 million on Kickstarter three years ago, has been criticised by some of its investors for not delivering the functionality promised. So, will there be a day when

spectrometers are being used to scan food in supermarkets? With technology advances, it seems that even though devices can be made smaller, challenges remain in finding the right use cases, dealing with data, as well as setting reasonable expectations for consumers.

Fitting applications Consumer spectroscopy brings with it a completely new type of user. Finding | @electrooptics

“Consumers are not going to be forgiving … the expectation will be that it doesn’t just work, but works well”

the right applications and presenting information in an appropriate way creates challenges that are perhaps even more difficult than those associated with hardware, optics and electronics. ‘The challenge is not getting the instruments out there, but determining what to do with them [and how] to provide meaningful results to the general, rather than scientific, population,’ said Erik Schoeffel, who deals with marketing and sales at McPherson, a manufacturer of finish-to-order scientific instruments. Schoeffel said that the company is looking to bring spectroscopy products to the broader consumer market in the next three to five years. Henry Langston, Ocean Optics’ general manager for the UK and Ireland, added: ‘People are realising that it’s more about the challenge of the application and the specific application that they

want to do rather than the technological challenges – miniaturisation or combining a spectrometer into an integrated or consumer-level system.’ He noted that Ocean Optics also views the consumer space as an attractive opportunity in the coming years.

Medical diagnostics and food analysis

both seem to be exciting possibilities for consumers, allowing them to monitor health at home or test groceries before they buy.

‘We’ve definitely seen a lot of interest and activity around food – food safety, food analysis, and food authentication,’ Langston noted. He pointed to several global food scandals that have alarmed consumers recently, such as horse meat

March 2017 Electro Optics 19


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