The phone's display acts as the light source, beaming colors at an object while the camera captures details about the reflected color.
The makers of an industrial hyperspectral camera called HawkSpex have created an app that lets you use your smartphone's existing camera and display to scan an object and see what's inside it.
German firm Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation hopes consumers will find its HawkSpex app useful for things such as testing for pesticides in fruit sold as organic or scanning cosmetics to tell whether they're authentic.
The company targets its existing industrial scanner at manufacturing processes, but it requires a special spectral camera to capture and analyze the light reflected from the surface of an object.
Knowing that certain spectrum ranges are associated with a substance allows the sensor, combined with software analysis, to generate a fingerprint for each substance.
The forthcoming consumer app, scheduled for release towards the end of 2017, can perform similar analyses with a smartphone's camera. This capability has been achieved by reversing the process it uses to acquire fingerprints using the spectral camera, according to professor Udo Seiffert of the Fraunhofer IFF.
"The [phone's] camera gives us a broadband three-channel sensor, that is, one that scans every wavelength and illuminates an object with different colored light," he said.
The phone's display acts as the light source, rapidly beaming a series of colors at an object while the camera captures details about the reflected color. An algorithm, optimized for the smartphone's hardware, performs an analysis of the object's chemical composition.
According to Fraunhofer IFF, the company has finished the first version of the app, but is holding off on a private beta until it's developed features to support scanning different objects.
If the app works as planned, Fraunhofer IFF may find it easier to distribute to consumers than similar technology in the recently announced H2 phone, which features a dedicated material sensor from Consumer Physics.
Consumer Physics has sold a handheld molecular scanner called SCiO for several years, but scaled it down to a sensor format small enough for smartphone. It will rely on third-party developed apps that are customized to analyze different objects.
In contrast, Fraunhofer IFF says it will be taking a "Wikipedia approach" to its app, allowing consumers to add support for different objects. Consumers would send data from each scan to Fraunhofer IFF, whose engineers would verify the measurements and then update the app.
"Once the app is launched on the market by the end of this year, active users will be able to contribute to the whole big thing and create new applications, for instance, that test pesticide exposure of heads of lettuce, by teaching the system such problems," Seiffert said.
The molecular scanner can tell you how many calories are in your cake
It sounds like something out of a sci-fi film, but a handheld gadget that can scan the molecular fingerprint of physical matter and instantly provides useful information about its chemical makeup has been launched.
Scalled Scios, its Israeli inventors say it could be used for everything from checking the calorie content of food to seeing if your medication really does include the drugs you expect.
The firm says it could even be expanded to become a medical sensor, analysing human tissue or bodily fluids.
SCiO delivers real-time results to its mobile application on the user's smartphone via Bluetooth.
It works using near-IR spectroscopy. The technique is based on the fact each type of molecule vibrates in its own unique way, and these vibrations interact with light to create a unique optical signature.
'Smartphones give us instant answers to questions like where to have dinner, what movie to see, and how to get from point A to point B, but when it comes to learning about what we interact with on a daily basis we're left in the dark,' said Dror Sharon, CEO of Consumer Physics.
'We designed SCiO to empower explorers everywhere with new knowledge and to encourage them to join our mission of mapping the physical world.'
When the product ships to consumers this fall, it will include apps to help users identify the composition of food, medication, and plants.
The food app delivers macro nutrient values (calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins), produce quality, ripeness, and spoilage analysis for various foods, including cheeses, fruits, vegetables, sauces, salad dressings, cooking oils, and more.
SCiO can also identify and authenticate medication in real-time by cross-checking a pill's molecular makeup with a database of medications.
Finally, SCiO can analyze moisture levels in plants and tell users when to water them.
The materials SCiO can analyze are endless, including cosmetics, clothes, flora, soil, jewels and precious stones, leather, rubber, oils, plastics, and even human tissue or bodily fluids.
After the gadget is launched, the firm said new applications will be developed and released regularly.
Peres is a Smart Device That Scans to Protect You from Bad Food
Peres is a device that is being called an "e-nose" and if you find yourself especially prone to food poisioning, it might just be a useful tool to have on hand, since Peres is like a digital food sniffer and it will tell you if a food item has passed its prime.
The electronic nose-like device is capable of scanning meats like beef, chicken, pork and fish, and will give you information on the freshness, health hazards and the risk of food apoisoning that might come with eating the meat.
Peres is currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo and for $120, early supporters will receive one of these devices of their very own. Since the World Health Organization states that over 200 diseases are spread through food, a quick scan with Peres really can't hurt.