Picture this: a recent camera technology holds the potential to help customers use their smartphones to look beneath the surface of ripe avocados, tomatoes and other fresh produce items. It allows them to more readily identify bruising or other hidden quality defects.
Hyperspectral imaging is commonly used today in a range of applications, from building and food safety inspections to satellite imaging. Its use is limited in commercial applications, however, because of the high cost, but researchers from the University of Washington and Microsoft are working to change that.
Researchers have developed a cheaper version of the hyperspectral camera called the “HyperCam.” Over the course of a weeklong test, scientists took hyperspectral images of 10 different fruits, including strawberries, mangoes and avocados. The HyperCam images predicted the relative ripeness with a 94 percent degree of accuracy, versus 62 percent for a typical camera.
The hyperspectral camera can see a total of 17 different bands of light. Twelve of the wavelengths are in the color spectrum, while the remaining five are of the infrared variety, which humans cannot see. The infrared wavelengths enable the hyperspectral camera to see beneath the surface of items such as an avocado.
“It’s not there yet, but the way this hardware was built you can probably imagine putting it in a mobile phone,” Shwetak Patel, Washington Research Foundation Endowed Professor of Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering at UW, quoted at UWToday.
“With this kind of camera, you could go to the grocery store and know what produce to pick by looking underneath the skin and seeing if there’s anything wrong inside. It’s like having a food safety app in your pocket.”
The researchers presented a paper at the UbiComp 2015 conference, detailing a camera that costs approximately $800, or potentially just $50 to add to a smartphone camera.
One of the team, Neel Joshi, a Microsoft researcher, said that after developing the camera, they began taking images of everyday objects around the home and office, and they were surprised by the hidden information revealed.
One outstanding issue is the performance of the camera in bright light situations, but the hope is to have an affordable smartphone version in a few years, according to Inside Science. This is just part of a trend towards providing greater product and quality visibility for customers. And it is one more reason to have freshness on your supply chain speed dial.