It could be the gadget every New Year dieter needs – a hand-held scanner that zaps food and drink and instantly reveals its exact calorie, fat and carbohydrate content.
The device, which has just been unveiled, uses a molecular sensor to scan food – and the information is then beamed to a mobile phone app.
The scanner, smaller than a pack of cards, could be particularly useful for dieters eating in restaurants, where food labelling may not be available. And it could also be a discreet tool to use at dinner parties, according to the developers.
When it was demonstrated for the first time at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, the DietSensor gave a nutritional breakdown of foods such as yogurt, cheese, breakfast cereals and bread.
The gadget will also be programmed to recognise cooked or raw foods, including fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, poultry and even salad dressings when it is made commercially available this year.
‘The more it is used, the more information can be uploaded [to an online digital data library] and the more it will know,’ said the French company co-founder Remy Bonnasse, who designed the device after his daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
‘For her, knowing the carbohydrate content of food is essential as the amount affects how much medication she needs,’ he said. ‘We hope it will have uses far beyond calorie-counting.’
The device is a wide-band, near-infrared spectrometer, which works by using a beam of light that bounces between the object and a sensor, relaying molecular information.
Every material bounces light in a slightly different way, which the scanner then interprets.
One function may be to determine whether food poisoning is a risk, due to high levels of bacteria in a piece of chicken or fish, for instance. At present the DietSensor cannot gauge volume of food, so weight has to be added manually in order for exact nutritional values to be calculated.
Nutritionist Zoe Harcombe welcomed the development, saying: ‘Eventually, we will be able to zap foods and know instantly their vitamin and mineral content. Food labelling can be confusing and some manufacturers try to hide this information as much as they can. This puts it out in the open.’
The scanner will cost £170, with a monthly subscription fee – about £13 – to use it with the app.
An implant that could save diabetic patients from the discomfort of regular blood tests has been unveiled by scientists at the Consumer Electronics Show.
The biosensor, a few millimetres long and thinner than a human hair, is made from a ‘smart’ gel which contains hundreds of microscopic pores.
Once injected beneath the skin, it meshes with the body’s tissues and cannot be seen or felt.
The gel is coated in a light-emitting molecule that gives out a fluorescent signal in the presence of body chemicals such as glucose or oxygen.
A separate reader-device is held over the skin’s surface, above the implant, and emits a harmless beam of radiation that ‘excites’ the gel sensor. The level of fluorescence emitted by the gel is used by the reader to work out the level of the chemical being measured.
At present, diabetics have to test blood glucose levels many times daily with a finger-prick device. US developers Profusa hope the new device will get safety clearance in the US in the spring, after which clinical trials will begin.