What is the nutritional content of a green smoothie from a food truck? How sweet are the grapes from the market? And how much water really is there in a cucumber? Soon, everyone will be able to answer these questions for themselves – thanks to a new OSRAM technology.

The revolution looks quite unremarkable at first glance. It is grey and the size of a matchbox, with a blue button on top. Udo Jansen holds the device in front of the item he wants to analyze and the display of his smartphone on the desk in front of him lights up. Number of calories: 60 kcal. Carbohydrates: 13g. Water: 85g.

Jansen puts down the plum he has just scanned with a small device known as the SCiO. He works in OSRAM's Opto Semiconductors business unit, where they have spent a lot of time with this device. "We have tested it on everything possible," says Jansen. "It works."

“In the future it may be possible to make the sensors small enough to fit directly into smartphones.”

Udo Jansen

How many calories are there in a candy bar? What nutrients does an apple contain? It's often hard to find answers to such questions in the supermarket or at a restaurant. Food analysis is time-consuming and requires laboratory equipment. The end consumer has no choice but to trust the information provided by manufacturers and retailers. It's not exactly in keeping with the times. Customers today are more curious and more demanding. They study the small print on packaging and are well informed when it comes to vitamins, dietary fiber, and additives. Customers want transparency. And soon they'll have it, because they will be able to measure everything themselves.

This new technology is the next step in biomonitoring–the trend for calculating and logging one's own biometrics such as blood pressure, pulse rate, weight, and body fat percentage. Modern men and women want to live healthily. And people who look after their bodies also pay close attention to what they eat.

OSRAM has developed the world's first broadband emitting infrared LED for Israeli firm Consumer Physics, which has fitted it into a device it calls SCiO in the hope of tapping into a new area of consumer electronics. This is a growth market, if the interest in the technology is anything to go by, explains Jansen: "Our competitors are already working on their own devices."

Infrared spectrometers use part of the light spectrum that is invisible to the human eye. A sensor absorbs these waves and compares their patterns against a database. This tells us which molecules the waves have encountered, and therefore what the item is made of–a bit like a chemical fingerprint.

To analyze the pattern, or spectrum, the SCiO scanner is linked to a smartphone via Bluetooth. Using an app, the user states what type of item has been scanned, for example vegetable or meat. That helps the online database to find the right item from countless samples. To carry out a scan, the scanner has to be held close to the food and a blue target light is shone onto the object to be measured. The actual measurement is then carried out by the broadband infrared light generated via the phosphor converter developed by OSRAM.

The device can also check medicines and identify any that have been diluted or are counterfeit. With further development the technology could also be of interest for other application areas. Security forces could use it to instantly test suspicious substances. A sensor in the car could check the quality of the fuel being put into it. There are many ways in which the SCiO scanner with broadband infrared LED can help people to lead a better, healthier, and more sustainable life.

As Jansen puts the scanner back into its box he says: "In the future it may be possible to make the sensors small enough to fit directly into smartphones." An infrared spectrometer as small as a phone camera. It would be the next revolution.

Udo Jansen

Product Marketing Infrared Components at OSRAM Opto Semiconductors in Regensburg.

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