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FEATURE PORTABLE SPECTROSCOPY


with the battery life, for example. ‘Consumers are not going to be forgiving,


and if they’re going to use it, they will use it every day and the expectation will be that it doesn’t just work, but works well,’ he continued.


The type of measurements and answers


that can be obtained with consumer- level devices remains to be seen. But, according to Bakeev, there needs to be a clear understanding as to what the customer expects and what is actually being delivered. ‘There are some people that are claiming


that they can give you the number of calories in food, for instance, but can this be done reliably? Or is it that you can tell people that a food item is safe or not safe,’ Bakeev noted. ‘The interface is important – will it be


Consumer Physics’ device, the SCiO, was launched last year and can be used to scan food items for nutritional values


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being sold as beef in the UK, infant milk powder being tainted with melamine in China, and a Listeria outbreak in cucumbers in Germany. ‘There are a number of these events happening and, because our food is being produced at an industrial scale, people are suddenly much more concerned or aware of the challenges of how to protect themselves,’ Langston commented. At the moment, food analysis seems


more feasible for the first consumer devices, Langston remarked. ‘That’s not to say that traditional big markets like biomedical don’t exist, I think it’s simply that there are different drivers. Biomedical has a lot of regulatory challenges; consumer devices are still being developed, but on a much longer timescale,’ he said. ‘Whereas with food there is a shorter path to more direct applications, and it’s an area where there is a lot of burgeoning interest.’ Dr Katherine Bakeev, director of market and customer development at B&WTek, agreed that food analysis is more likely as an entry market, because the calibration and creating databases is easier. ‘When it comes to medical, people are so different that to build up those databases will be more challenging. Glucose monitoring for example: people have been looking to do this spectroscopically for 20 to 30 years to make it a patient tool. That work is ongoing, and it’s because people are different; to have a calibration for each individual is difficult, but to have a universal one is also difficult.’


20 Electro Optics March 2017 However, she noted that cost will also


drive applications, and consumers may be prepared to spend more on a device that could monitor their health. ‘If you had a device that could tell you your health you’d be prone to buy that. Food safety is also important, but what would you be willing to pay for that? If it’s for your health perhaps you would pay $1,000.’ BW&Tek sells handheld Raman and Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instruments, and although the company is not involved in the consumer space currently, it holds a patent for a smartphone spectroscopy device. Bakeev noted that this is where they see the consumer market moving towards in the future.


“I think the technology is ready to tell you whether something is safe or not safe, but … exact concentrations, perhaps not so much”


Setting expectations Regardless of the application, setting realistic expectations for consumers is important, particularly as these types of users can be less forgiving when it comes to technology. ‘As a whole we have very high expectations for consumer-level devices,’ said Langston. ‘Smartphones are the classic example of something very technologically advanced where people have very high expectations of them working intuitively and reliably. People get incredibly frustrated


something that gives you a red light or a green light, or will it be something more detailed? I think the technology is ready to tell you whether something is safe or not safe, but to go into the numerics with exact concentrations, perhaps not so much. It’s a question of what you’re purporting to tell people the technology can deliver.’ One device that created a lot of excitement when it was first put forward on KickStarter in 2014 is the SCiO by Consumer Physics. Launched last year, the near-infrared micro- spectrometer weighs just 35g, measures 6.8 x 4 x 1.9cm and retails at $299. After an item is scanned at a measuring distance of between 5mm and 15mm, the SCiO sends the spectrum of the sample to a smartphone wirelessly, which in turn forwards it to the cloud where it is analysed and compared to a database. Information about the sample is then sent back to the user’s smartphone in real time. Currently, the SCiO can identify over-the-counter pain relievers, measure cocoa solid concentration in chocolate, and obtain nutritional information – such as calories, fat and carbohydrates – about


dairy products, meats, and fruit and veg. But since delivering to customers, the company has received complaints from some of its Kickstarter backers about the limited capability of the device. Consumer Physics says that new applications are being developed and released regularly. Despite the SCiO not living up to expectations, many have pointed to Consumer Physics’ achievements in miniaturising its technology and bringing a functional product to market. In January, semiconductor company


@electrooptics | www.electrooptics.com


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Consumer Physics


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