Hyper-Spectral Imaging – Scientists Develop Device That Allows A Smartphone Camera To Inform You What An Object Is Made Of

A new device in the final stages of development allows a standard smartphone camera to figure out the composition of the object it is aimed at.

Electrical engineers from Tel Aviv University in Israel have invented a device that can transform smartphone cameras into hyper-spectral sensors capable of detecting the chemical ingredients of an object or fluid simply by analyzing a photo or video of it. In simpler terms, you can take a photo or video of something and get instant feedback on its chemical composition. For example, you might be able to know for sure if the drink you ordered contains alcohol or the fruits that you are about to purchase are covered with pesticides or wax.

Hyper-Spectral Imaging Is Already Being Used For Aerial Surveys

Hyper-spectral imaging is a fascinating field, as it scans and reveals light frequencies that humans can’t see. Using hyper-spectral sensors, humans can visualize and later identify the unique chemical signatures of different substances. Satellites have been using this technology for quite some time to detect water and nutrients in soil, helping farmers manage their crops or mining companies locate mineral and gas deposits underground.

These Cameras See What The Human Eye Cannot

The team appears to have significantly miniaturized the hyper-spectral sensors, that so far were inside large, sophisticated cameras. Combining a newly patented optical component and image processing software, the engineers have created a small and compact device that can fit onto a smartphone camera. Future iterations could be shrunk down further and incorporated within the smartphone’s body to greatly expand the capability of its camera.

Hyper-spectral Camera Lenses Have Been Made In The Past, But Weren't Miniature

Explaining the concept, the team revealed their optical component is based on existing microelectromechanical or MEMS technology, which relates to very small machines, less than a millimeter in size, consisting of a microprocessor and other components, such as sensors. They further added that their device, which can be mass produced, is compatible with all standard smartphone cameras. Speaking about the achievement, lead inventor, David Mendlovic explained.

“We predict hyper-spectral imaging will play a major role in consumer electronics, the automotive industry, biotechnology, and homeland security.”

So how soon can your smartphone camera be able to decipher the chemical composition? In order for the captured images to mean anything, they’ll need to be paired up with a database containing information on the hyper-spectral signatures of a range of different chemicals.

Mendlovic, along with doctoral student, Ariel Raz, have spun out a company called Unispectral Technologies and are trying to partner with companies that can analyze its camera’s images to build-up such a database. Until such a comprehensive database is complete, the hyper-spectral camera is just a fancy attachment.

[Image Credit | AWE, Tel Aviv University, Engadget, Northrop Grumman]