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This Smartphone Is The Latest Attempt To Let Us Scan Our Food For Nutrition Information

What if you could find out how many calories are in your meal just by pointing your phone at it? Many devices have tried; the Changhong H2 phone is next.

If you hold this new smartphone in front of your lunch, it can–so the company claims–tell you how many calories you’re about to eat. Point the smartphone at yourself, and it will tell you some important stats about your own body makeup.

The Changhong H2 phone, which will launch in China later this year, includes a tiny near-infrared spectrometer, which shines light at an object, and then analyzes the pattern of light reflected back to determine what the object is made of.

Before you take out your wallet, you should know that the portable spectrometer has become a somewhat legendary crowdfunded gadget that hasn’t always worked the way it is advertised. The TellSpec, which garnered a lot of media attention in 2013, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on Indiegogo but didn’t quite live up to our expectations when we took it for a spin ourselves. Consumer Physics, the company behind the H2 phone, showed us their earlier device, the SCiO in 2014, and it worked fairly well in limited applications. Now, they’ve put the SCiO into a phone.

“The smartphone can be used to detect materials and analyze their makeup instantly,” says Dror Sharon, the CEO of Consumer Physics. One of the uses available now is tracking health; he says the sensor can analyze body fat percentage, along with other data such as pulse and oxygen saturation in blood.

Another focus is food. At the grocery store, the phone can help pick out the sweetest apple or ripest tomato; at a restaurant or in your kitchen, it can report on calories, carbs, protein, and fat.

They also say the sensor is even capable of detecting contamination, such as melamine in milk, and that function may be added to the phone in the months following launch. In China, melamine–a chemical compound used in plastic–was part of a major food contamination scandal in 2008, affecting around 300,000 people. Food safety continues to be a challenge in the country; in 2016, officials uncovered more than half a million incidents of contaminated or counterfeit food.

That–along with China’s struggles with fake medicine, which can also be identified by the phone–makes it especially well-suited as a place to launch the phone. (It will later launch in other countries.)

“We found China to be one of the key markets for the product as the Chinese consumers are early adopters for innovations in mobile technologies, and are acutely sensitive to the quality of materials they buy, eat, drink, etc.,” says Sharon.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Co.Exist who focuses on sustainable design. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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