TellSpec is a handheld Bluetooth device that promises to tell users what’s in any food item at the press of a button, based on the spectrum of light that food reflects. Through a smartphone app, TellSpec will analyze ingredients, count calories, and warn about allergens or toxic chemicals like mercury.
Let’s get the inevitable comparison to Star Trek’s instantly-analyze-anything tricorder device out of the way. Yeah, it’s kind of like that, but just for food (so far, anyway). Point the sleek palm-sized device at your meal, hold down the single button, and wait for a beep: in seconds, the chemical composition of the food pops up on your phone, cross-referenced with information about each ingredient.
TellSpec uses an infrared laser to perform a chemical analysis technique called Ramen spectroscopy. When hit with infrared light, any atom or molecule will bounce back light of a distinctive and slightly different set of wavelengths. TellSpec collects the mish-mash of reflected light and sends that data to a cloud-based server, where an algorithm teases apart the light signatures of this or that compound and reports back to you with the results.
Knowing exactly what’s in your food is an empowering tool, especially for people with sensitivities or allergies to ingredients like gluten or lactose. Not only would it give consumers greater control over what they put in their bodies; it would also let shoppers and diners hold food producers and restaurants to account for misleading or neglectful food labelling. The company claims TellSpec works even through clear plastic and glass, so it’s useful everywhere from the home to the grocery store to restaurants.
The big question is how reliable and accurate TellSpec’s analysis truly is. The company claims better than 97% accuracy in its own tests, and is working with university researchers to do more tests and document the results in academic publications. The analysis engine is built on a learning algorithm, so the more people use TellSpec, the better the results should become.
TellSpec is taking preorders, with the first production run planned to ship in August of 2014. The device comes with one year of free analyses, but after that users will need to pay a subscription fee.
Check out the video below for more details on how TellSpec works.