Jan 202014


The Indiegogo hit Tellspec scanner shoots a laser at your food and counts the calories and nutritional data. But is it just vaporware? We tried one out.

If there’s one thing true about the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, it’s that there’s no shortage of people who think they have a groundbreaking idea. With a mind-numbing array of wearable technology, bendable screens, and “Internet of things”-type devices at the show this year, it can be debated just how much any one product truly breaks ground.

The TellSpec laser scanner appears, at least in its demo form, to have potential. The device is a raman spectrometer that uses an algorithm to calculate what’s in your food. You point the laser at a potato chip for instance, and the accompanying app on your smartphone gives you a read-out of the ingredients.

TellSpec founder Isabel Hoffman gave me a demonstration of the device in action during CES. She turned on a prototype, which isn’t yet as slim or pretty as the hoped-for final product, and pointed the laser at chips, bread, and various snack foods.

I, not a particularly big fan of processed foods, was anxious to see if the device could easily point out the man-made goo that some companies put in their products. It did this in less than 30 seconds with one chip-like snack food she scanned. After pointing her laser, a list of ingredients popped up on the TellSpec app.

Seeing that something called “tartarzine” was listed, I was able to click through to a detailed wiki-like page explaining that this is in fact Yellow No. 5. Based on some of the information the app provided me on tartarzine, I’m leaning away from eating it in the future.

There were a few caveats. Although the device can point out allergens, she says it’s not as accurate as it may someday be, and isn’t a cure all for them.

“Right now the algorithm works very well tabulating carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and calories,” she said. “But we are very concerned with the allergies that we may not track down enough parts per million yet.”

Hoffman says when the device is released there will be an allergy disclaimer that comes along with it. The team hopes to add in more functionality over time in that area.

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