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Smartphone app looks inside objects to reveal components

Wed 1 Feb 2017

Pesticide exposure

A new mobile app which is able to look directly inside objects and display information on their contents has been developed by a team of German engineers.

The app, named ‘HawkSpex’, was designed by developers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF, and aims to read the constituents of an object in order to retrieve verifiable information for customers.

The researchers believe that the system has wide-ranging commercial applications, such as monitoring pesticide exposure in food products, verifying quality in cosmetics, and detecting paint touch-ups on vehicles.

While such scanning software does already exist, the HawkSpex system does not require additional hardware parts. The user simply takes out their smartphone, opens the app, aims it at the object, and automatically receives the desired information.

“What makes our app special is that users don’t need anything for a scan other than the camera already integrated in their smartphones,” explained Fraunhofer IFF Expert Group Manager, Udo Seiffert.

HawkSpexThe professor noted that traditional scanning methods require a specific hyperspectral camera which adjusts to different coloured light and detects how much of a colour’s light is reflected by an object – generating a spectral fingerprint of the object. From here, engineers can use an algorithm to extract information on its constituents.

“Since hyperspectral cameras aren’t integrated in smartphones, we simply reversed this principle,” said Seiffert. “The camera gives us a broadband three-channel sensor, that is, one that scans every wavelength and illuminates an object with different coloured light.”

Therefore, instead of the camera measuring light intensity in different colours, the smartphone’s display lights up the object with different colours for fractions of a second. In this way, if the display casts out only red light onto the object, the object is only able to reflect red light – and the camera can only measure red light.

While the first lab version of the app has been completed, Seiffert does not expect HawkSpex to reach market availability until the end of 2017. “There are so many conceivable uses that the market will surely overrun us,” he added.

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