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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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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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