Is a Tricorder Your Ideal Business Opportunity? – Handheld Material Analysis Application Development with NeoSpectra

By Ahmed Korayem – Technical Marketing Lead

The advent of handheld spectral sensing has brought about a potential revolution in material analysis, a revolution that holds promise for nearly every industry.

Most of us remember the Star Trek tricorder that could evaluate any material on any planet for its composite elements. Now imagine being able to assess food ripeness or determine what materials in your home are emitting volatile organic compounds, or even whether your prescription medicine has a new filler material. Such an application has the potential for radical disruption of many industries, as well as security opportunities in onsite detection of counterfeit pharmaceuticals, clothing, food brands and more.

It used to be that the only way to get accurate material analysis was to use large benchtop equipment or send samples to a central lab. Such instruments can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000, and the delay in sending samples to a lab and getting results is often a matter of days to weeks, which can hold up important decision making for science, agriculture, and industry, not to mention consumers or patients.

We can finally say that we now have access to FT-IR spectroscopy in the form of a sensor that fits into a handheld device. NeoSpectra sensing solutions are available in a stand-alone scanner product that enables easy application development, or you can integrate the NeoSpectra-Micro sensor into your own electronics and the housing that best fits your application environment.

Si-Ware has customers who have developed their own equipment around the sensor for use in onsite hair nutrient analysis in beauty salons and soil quality monitoring. Others are deploying NeoSpectra-Micro within inline equipment for quality control in food processing and on-machine analysis for smart farming applications. This is just a beginning for a plethora of applications that are emerging and will have a strong influence on our daily lives.

Making Integration Easy

The key to ROI for an application developer looking to create a new material analysis tool is to have a sensor that is easily integrated.

The NeoSpectra-Micro Development Kit (DVK) is the easiest way to proceed, with a plug-and-play solution that replicates the typical performance of the NeoSpectra-Micro. This speeds up the learning curve. The DVK provides a set of components that connect the NeoSpectra-Micro to a Raspberry Pi, which acts as a host for easy interfacing. The DVKs enable developers to evaluate the performance of the NeoSpectra-Micro and to start application and product development.

If the form factor or the application environment does not require a fully customized mobile or inline housing and functionality, the NeoSpectra-Scanner is probably the best way to go. Made for both mobility and fixed location use, this out-of-the-box equipment is hardware-software ready and uses a simple 5-step procedure for tailoring it to your application.

Say you’re looking at developing an agricultural application, like assessing the nutrient quality of your animals’ feed for better meat or dairy yield (don’t use this for your dog’s food, you might be surprised what you find out). You are only planning on spot checks, especially when you get a new shipment of feed for your cattle. Just take your NeoSpectra-Scanner to the feed pile and scan at multiple points and get an instant reading on the quality of the feed on your mobile device.

Enabling this kind of application has never been easier. Using NeoSpectra-Scanner, all you need is a five-step process.

The process starts with simply collecting the samples of materials that you want to analyze. For simplification, let’s imagine you would like to enable predicting the dry matter in the feed that you are giving to the cows in the farms to ensure that they have a healthy and nutritious diet. You don’t need to worry how you would build such a device. The process is now as simple as follows:

  1. You’d be collecting various feed sample with different dry matter content.
  2. At that point you use a reference method, such as a benchtop, lab based spectrometer or wet chemistry in order to know that exactdry matter content in the feed samples that you have collected.
  3. You then collect spectra from the same feed samples with the NeoSpectra-Scanner. You may not be able to see it with your eyes, but there is something unique about each spectrum that you have collected that correspond to the actual value of dry matter.
  4. Knowing the dry matter reference values and their corresponding unique spectral response, you have all what you need to develop algorithms that can decode the dry matter content out of the spectra. In other words, you can train a piece of software how to predict dry matter out of a spectrum that is collected using NeoSpectra-Scanner
  5. Last, you deploy the models on the scanner with customized software that can be an application on a smartphone or tablet.

The models can reside directly on the NeoSpectra-Scanner (for even quicker results) or in the cloud.

If this still sounds too complicated, NeoSpectra’s product team will be more than happy to help you in your development journey. Just let them know.

At this point you’re now in the realm of science fiction, having basically created your first tricorder. It’s time to beam yourself to a new business and engage!