New smartphone camera could tell you what things are made of

The Unispectral camera and software could tell you what's in your drink, as an example

How would you like to be able to know the chemical composition of something, just by taking a snapshot or video of it with your smartphone? You may eventually be able to, thanks to a compact hyperspectral imaging camera being developed at Tel Aviv University.

Hyperspectral imaging involves scanning light spectra not visible to the human eye, in order to identify the unique electromagnetic "fingerprints" of various substances and processes.

While this can already be done with larger cameras, a team led by Tel Aviv's Prof. David Mendlovic is developing a much smaller optical component that could conceivably be built into a smartphone. It utilizes MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) technology, and is reportedly "suitable for mass production and compatible with standard smartphone camera designs."

In order for the images it captures to mean anything, however, it would need to be paired up with a database of different substances' hyperspectral signatures (the earlier-mentioned fingerprints). "The optical element acts as a tunable filter and the software – an image fusion library – would support this new component and extract all the relevant information from the image," explained Mendlovic.

A working prototype is reportedly in the works, and should be ready by June. The basic system has already been demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month.

The technology is currently being developed under the name Unispectral, by the university's Ramot tech transfer company. Its suggested applications include consumer electronics, the automotive industry, biotechnology, and homeland security.

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