Future Smartphones Will Detect Cancer, Sense Food Quality

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Researchers in Finland have developed new mobile technology that could allow smartphones to detect skin cancer or tell you whether your leftovers in the refrigerator are still edible.

The researchers from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland created what they're calling "the world's first hyperspectral mobile device" by converting an iPhone camera into a new kind of optical sensor. For the uninitiated, pricey hyperspectral cameras provide access to the optical spectrum at each point of an image, enabling a wide range of measurements. They're currently used for medical, industrial, space, and environmental sensing.

The researchers incorporated an inexpensive optical Micro Opto Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) chip (pictured right) into the lens of an iPhone camera. The result, they say, brings the new possibilities of low-cost spectral imaging to consumer applications.

"Consumer benefits could appear in health applications, such as mobile phones that are able to check whether moles are malignant or food is edible," Anna Rissanen, who is heading the research team at VTT said in a statement. "They could also verify product authenticity or identify users based on biometric data. On the other hand, driverless cars could sense and identify environmental features based on the representation of the full optical spectrum at each point of an image."

VTT has already developed a number of applications for the hyperspectral cameras.

"Today's smart devices provide huge opportunities for the processing of image data and various cloud services based on spectral data," Rissanen added. "Mass-produced sensor technology will enable the introduction of hyperspectral imaging in a range of devices in which low-cost camera sensors are currently used."

The researchers are hoping to cooperate with companies to commercialize this technology and bring new optical sensor products to market.

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