Food For Thought

Technology to tell us exactly what's in our food
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Chalk this one up to the “better living through technology” category.

Last week, TellSpec CEO Isabel Hoffmann, leader of the company behind the world’s first consumer food scanner, spoke at TEDGlobal in Brazil and give a demo of one of the company’s first beta units on stage.

TellSpec is made up of a pocket-sized scanner, proprietary algorithms and a mobile app that work together to report exactly what’s in your food directly to your smartphone. The scanner sends a beam of light to your food and analyzes the food’s reflected light or spectra. This information is sent to the Cloud where the TellSpec algorithm determines the ingredients and caloric information of the scanned food. This information is sent to your smartphone where the TellSpec app will tell you the calorie information per ounce, cup or gram, of the food you scan.

TellSpec’s beta unit currently identifies calories, macronutrients such as fats, protein and carbohydrates, and other ingredients that appear in measurable concentrations in food. The company is continuing to miniaturize the scanner further and build the database to include additional ingredients before delivering it to backers in 2015.

Hoffmann’s talk covered the idea, inspiration and technology behind TellSpec, as well as the potential impact of creating a robust, global “Food Print” or a fingerprint of what people eat across the world. With this Food Print, scientists may one day use the data collected by TellSpec to draw correlations between the food we eat and public health.

“One of the key characteristic of our food analysis engine is that as our database grows with each scan, our learning algorithms become more accurate. The more food scanned by people, the larger the food database and the larger the public memory of food composition and consumption. Essentially our project is a community project, a crowd sourcing project,” said Hoffmann.

As TellSpec’s database and algorithms evolve, TellSpec will continue to provide more information beyond what’s available on nutritional labels, thereby encouraging transparency in produce farming and food manufacturing, and educating the consumer on the wellness implications of each ingredient in their food. TellSpec’s goal is to make its food analysis system and educational database available to everyone, everywhere, independent of the scanner used.

You can watch a stream of the presentation here: tedlive.ted.com.

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