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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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New Year, New Safety: Win a Nokia with Namola Plus

In 2020, South Africans can stay connected to emergency services with Namola Plus. Gadget is giving away two Nokia 5.1 smartphones with a Namola Plus subscription.

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Whether your home gets broken into or you get involved in a car accident, life happens. Now the Namola app is here to keep South Africans safer and connected to emergency services when they need it. 

The fastest way to request emergency assistance is via the Namola app. It uses a phone’s GPS location to notify the closest responders about who and where the user is. It also uses a combination of local law enforcement and community safety initiatives, so they can come to the user’s aid as fast as possible.

Namola is free but it does offer a paid subscription called Namola Plus. If offers armed response and private emergency medical services (EMS), even when you don’t subscribe to these services outside of Namola. This means Namola can send armed response if you need it, faster than other response services. The private EMS is also available to Namola Plus users, even if they’re not on medical aid. Namola Plus costs R49 per month.

Here are some tips on how to stay safe this year:

  • Tag along the perfect wingman – (Virtually) bring your loved ones along when you drive, ensuring they are with you every step of the way via the Namola Family Safety and Tracking features that allow you to share your location or, with permission, track your nearest while they’re on the move. 
  • Know what’s out there – rather look at the roads you intend to travel with Google Maps before you take them. This helps you to avoid nasty traffic surprises, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the areas. One can use the Nokia 5.1’s Google Assistant function that provides you with your own personal assistant without having to say OK Google. This makes it convenient to ask “what’s the traffic like to work?” or “how long will it take to get to a petrol station?” without having to tap the screen.
  • Don’t hesitate if you feel unsafe – Namola is available to help keep you safe. That’s why you should always request help, even if you’re not 100% sure you need it yet. Namola can also be requested for other people, so if you see someone in danger, open the Namola app to request help. It could save that person’s life.

To stand a chance to win one of two Nokia 5.1 phones, and a 6-month subscription to Namola Plus to the value of R3,099, sign up for Gadget’s Newsletter here, and follow this link to the competition that will be supplied in the newsletter every day this week. For more information on the terms of the competition, read here.

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The PC is back!

… and 2020 will be its big year, writes CHRIS BUCHANAN, client solutions director at Dell Technologies

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Concept Ori

It turns out the PC’s death has been exaggerated. PC sales grew between 1.1% and 1.5% in the last few quarters of the year, according to Gartner. While those don’t sound like massive leaps, they represent a large market that has been declining for several years. Windows 10 is credited for this surge, especially as Windows 7 is leading towards its end of life (EOL).

But I don’t think that is the entire picture. Windows 10 upgrades have been taking place for several years, and the market has also gotten savvier about managing EOL. Other factors are driving the adoption of PCs.

A specific one is how much closer the PC now sits to smartphones. I recently watched some youngsters work with laptops that had touchscreens. They hardly ever touched the keyboard, instead tapping and swiping on the screen. Yet they were still working on a laptop, not a smartphone. Certain things are much easier to do on a PC than a phone, and users are realising this. They aren’t relinquishing the convenience of their smartphones but applications are now available on PC’s and often easier to use.

Convertible or 2-in-1 machines have closed the gap between the two device types. This is in contrast to tablets. If you observe how people sit with tablets, it’s the opposite of smartphones or laptops. With the latter, we sit forward, attentive and focused. But tablets often prompt people to recline. It’s just a casual observation, yet I believe that PCs and smartphones have much more overlap with each other than pure tablet devices. Additionally, the convertible laptop has become the new tablet.

Chris Buchanan

Why does this bode well for PCs in 2020? 2-in-1 machines break down the barriers between the utility of a PC and collaborative culture of a smartphone. You can now flip a laptop into tent mode and use it as an interactive presentation screen on a boardroom table, or cradle it like a clipboard you jot on with a digital pen.

In the next year, we’ll see more of the market responding to this trend. Premium 2-in-1 devices have a stable and growing audience of users who are now going into their second, third and even fourth generations of devices. Mid-range and entry-level laptops are also starting to adopt touchscreens and flip displays.

2-in-1 devices are also pushing innovation, such as the emergence of dual-screen systems. Dell revealed two such concept devices at CES this year: Project Duet, a dual screen laptop, and Project Ori (for origami), a more compact approach to foldable devices. We also unveiled Project UFO, a prototype Alienware device that puts triple-A PC gaming into a handheld device. All of these reflect the desire for touch-enabled devices that are portable without sacrificing performance or excellence. They definitely point us to the future.

Convertible devices are not a new form factor. I can recall the first flip-over touchscreen designs appearing 15 years ago. Back then they were exotic and the standard laptop ruled the roost. But today, the habits and expectations of users are driving a change decisively towards convertible devices.

Desktop PCs are meanwhile becoming more specialised, yet also more widely appreciated for their versatility. Specialist non-Windows PCs, such as those used by designers, are being replaced by Windows PCs, often for lower costs. Integrated discrete graphics chips and other advancements add a lot of value to modern desktops. The smartphone overlap also appears here: many people use services such as Whatsapp Web on their PCs, and Dell customers use the Dell Mobile Connect app to show their smartphone screen on their PC display.

There is a new synergy between the PC and smartphone, created by users who find the two complement each other. Not everyone has realised this yet, but in 2020 that will be the resounding message. The PC is back and 2020 will be its year.

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