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Smart chip gives instant food analysis

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Si-Ware Systems (SWS) has announced its NeoSpectra Micro, a chip-scale, near infra-red (NIR) spectral sensor that analyses materials onsite without the need to send samples to a lab.

Si-Ware Systems (SWS) has introduced the first integrated micro-spectrometer for broad industrial and consumer use. The product, NeoSpectra Micro, is a small, chip-scale, near infra-red (NIR) spectral sensor that quickly analyses materials onsite without the need to send samples to a lab, enabling dramatic time savings and accurate, actionable data in the field or on the plant floor.

The device is small enough and thin enough to be incorporated into a smart phone case or designed into an existing mobile product. Product applications include scanning for food safety, and evaluating soil health, oil and gas composition, and pharmaceutical purity. Delivering the same functionality as conventional “bench-top” spectrometers in labs, the integrated NeoSpectra Micro brings to end-users the ability to immediately quantify composition, detect impurities and ascertain quality, speeding analysis of samples from days to minutes without the need for offsite lab verification.

NeoSpectra Micro builds on the success of the popular and cost-effective NeoSpectra spectral sensing module used by system integrators for development of industry-specific hand-held and inline spectrometer applications. The device is currently in use in agriculture, petrochemical, and healthcare industries.

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A Real Spectrometer — at Component Size

NeoSpectra Micro for the first time brings high performance spectroscopy to the size and cost of a sensor component.  At 18x18mm and only 4mm thick in a self-contained package, it can now be easily incorporated into consumer electronic products. Until now, spectroscopy and material analysis have been notoriously absent from consumer applications due to size, form factor and cost concerns.

“Now with NeoSpectra Micro, high performance material analysis can be a reality in the consumer electronics world,” said Scott Smyser, executive vice president at Si-Ware Systems. “In the same way that inertial sensors, accelerometers and gyros became small enough and low-cost enough for consumer electronic products — enabling a host of applications for motion sensing — NeoSpectra Micro will open up new and unprecedented applications for material analysis.”

Large Unmet Need for Material Analysis

According to Paris-based market research firm Tematys, market size for compact spectrometers is estimated at $655 million for 2016 and will grow to almost $1B in 2021. The research firm forecasts that consumer applications will see have some of the largest growth at a 54% Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) from 2015 to 2021.

NeoSpectra Micro can be an effective solution for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) targeting the consumer markets, since the integrated device is very similar to components in terms of size and cost. The tiny package includes all the system components: the MEMS interferometer, the photodetector, the light source, and also the electronics chips that perform system control and data processing. This facilitates integration, reduces development risks for system developers, and enables faster testing in different application environments.

Versatility is Key

NeoSpectra Micro not only offers an unprecedented wide spectral range that makes it suitable for many industries, but it is also the only chip-sized solution that operates at higher NIR wave length ranges (higher than 1,150 nm up to 2,500 nm). This extended range enables measurement of more materials with higher accuracy. In addition, it allows measuring samples in different form factors including particles, flat surfaces and even ground samples with no need for sample preparation.

“There is a pressing unmet need for rapid material analysis and actionable data in a broad range of applications, from consumer and wearables to industrial in-line and on-site quality control and scientific applications,” said Bassam Saadany, Optical MEMS business unit manager at SWS. “Developing a tiny spectrometer at a sensor price point, for out-of-the-box use across many sectors, requires a wide spectral range at the higher end of Near InfraRed. This places NeoSpectra above and beyond any other offerings on the market.”

NeoSpectra Micro Enabling Smartphones, Wearables and IoT

Having a low-cost, miniaturized NIR spectral sensor opens the door for a new wave of usage models for NIR spectroscopy. To showcase the potential of NeoSpectra Micro at Photonics West at the end of January, SWS has designed it into an iPhone case and developed a demonstration iPhone app. The demo app will scan and measure food and coffee to accurately detect and quantify such elements as gluten and caffeine levels.  The iPhone case was developed by XPNDBLS, and the spectral analysis algorithms were developed by GreenTropism.

“We are excited to add NeoSpectra Micro to our product portfolio. We believe it will change the way we perceive spectroscopy, taking it out of the lab environment and bringing it into consumer hands.” said Smyser. “Unlike other spectral sensor solutions out there, NeoSpectra is the first chip-scale spectral sensor with the high performance and reliability known for FT-IR spectrometers, the de-facto standard of high precision spectroscopy.”

In addition to smartphone-based spectrometers, NeoSpectra Micro can also be designed in to wearable devices, where NIR spectroscopy can non-invasively measure biochemistries in the body including glucose and ethanol/alcohol.  NeoSpectra Micro’s size and cost now enables NIR spectroscopy for the next wave of sensing for the human body, or even as smart sensors in Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

How NeoSpectra Works

NeoSpectra products are a built around low-cost, miniaturized, Fourier Transform InfraRed (FT-IR) spectral sensors that are based on MEMS technology. The sensors determine the spectral content of the input light, and generates spectrum data corresponding to the measured light. Today, NeoSpectra sensors operate in the NIR spectral range between 1,100nm and 2,500nm, enabling material composition analysis and identification in a wide range of application areas.  NeoSpectra technology allows for operation in the mid infra-red (MIR) and future-generation products will offer sensing in the MIR.

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget visited the Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to CEO Reed Hastings.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read about Netflix’s international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Take these 5 steps to digital

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By MARK WALKER, Associate Vice President for Sub-Saharan Africa at IDC Middle East, Africa and Turkey.

Digital transformation isn’t a buzz word because it sounds nice and looks good on the business CV. It is fundamental to long-term business success. IDC anticipates that 75% of enterprises will be on the path to digital transformation by 2027. 

However, digital transformation is not a process that ticks a box and moves to the next item on the agenda – it is defined by the organisation’s shift towards a digitally empowered infrastructure and employee. It is an evolution across system, infrastructure, process, individual and leadership and should follow clear pathways to ensure sustainable success.

The nature of the enterprise has changed completely with the influence of digital, cloud and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and success is reliant on strategic change.

There is a lot more ownership and transparency throughout the organisation and there is a responsibility that comes with that – employees want access to information, there has to be speed in knowledge, transactions and engagement,” he adds. “To ensure that the organisation evolves alongside digital and demand, it has to follow five very clear pathways to long-term, achievable success.

The first of these is to evaluate where the enterprise sits right now in terms of its digital journey. This will differ by organisation size and industry, as well as its reliance on technology. A smaller organisation that only needs a basic accounting function or the internet for email will have far different considerations to a small organisation that requires high-end technology to manage hedge funds or drive cloud solutions. The same comparisons apply to the enterprise-level organisation. The mining sector will have a completely different sub-set of technology requirements and infrastructure limitations to the retail or finance sectors.

Ultimately, every organisation, regardless of size or industry, is reliant on technology to grow or deliver customer service, but their digital transformation requirements are different. To ensure that investment into artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, knowledge engines, automation and connectivity are accurately placed within the business and know exactly where the business is going.

The second step is to examine what the business wants to achieve. Again, the goals of the organisation over the long and short term will be entirely sector dependent, but it is essential that it examine what the competitive environment looks like and what influences customer expectations. This understanding will allow for the business to hone its digital requirements accordingly.

The third step is to match expectations to reality. You need to see how you can move your digital transformation strategy forward and what areas require prioritisation, what funding models will support your digital aspirations, and how this tie into what the market wants. Ultimately, every step of the process has to be prioritised to ensure it maps back to where you are and the strategic steps that will take you to where you want to go.

The fourth step is to look at the operational side of the process. This is as critical as any other aspect of the transformation strategy as it maps budget to skills to infrastructure in such a way as to ensure that any project delivers return on investment. Budget and funding are always top of mind when it comes to digital transformation – these are understandably key issues for the business. How will it benefit from the investment? How will it influence the customer experience? What impact will this have on the ongoing bottom line? These questions tie neatly into the fifth step in the process – the feedback loop.

This is often the forgotten step, but it is the most important. The feedback loop is critical to ensuring that the digital transformation process is achieving the right results, that the right metrics are in place, and that the needle is moving in the right direction. It is within this feedback loop that the organisation can consistently refine the process to ensure that it moves to each successive step with the right metrics in place.

There is also one final element that every organisation should have in place throughout its digital evolution. An element that many overlook – engagement. There must be a real desire to change, from the top of the organisation right down to the bottom, and an understanding of what it means to undertake this change and why it is essential. This is why this will be a key discussion at the 2019 IDC South Africa CIO Summit taking place in April this year. With this in place, the five steps to digital transformation will make sense and deliver the right results.

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