GERMANY – In two years’, time, people might be able to quickly and easily assess the maturity or microbial decomposition of foods for human and animal consumption, or detect pollutants in water or foodstuffs via smartphones using a chip spectrometer currently being developed by researchers at Fraunhofer ENAS, an Institute for Electronic Nano Systems that develops smart integrated systems.

Just like conventional infrared spectrometers, this spectrometer does this by emitting light beams in the infrared range.

The light of different wavelengths is then fragmented using a tunable filter and conducted to a detector by means of integrated waveguides.

The amount of light reaching the detector at specific wavelengths produces a spectrum that can be measured to provide the reading.

The spectrometer under development weighs about a gram for easy integration into a smartphone and is purposed to cost less than a euro (US $1.18).

At present, infrared spectrometers weigh several kilograms and cost thousands of euros to produce.

Although transportable devices weighing slightly less do exist, they are unsuitable for the mass market, in terms of cost and size and also in terms of operation and analyzing the results.

To exist on the mass market, the technology must not be overly complex and the production method must be suitable for the mass market.

Whereas spectrometers usually consist of discrete more or less well integrated components, the smaller version was created by integrating the beam guidance, the splitting of the individual wavelengths and the detection function in one plane therefore branding it an “inplane spectrometer.”

If the spectrometer is to be capable of being integrated into smartphones, operating it must be easy and intuitive and the system must then provide the user with clear evaluations.

This is why the researchers have developed a concept; Smart learning algorithms, with the notion that if many people use the technology the system will be triggered to quickly learn.

 Operation via a smartphone will require the use of a special app with instructions to guide the user through the measurement process.

The software will then compare the automatically generated spectrum with the reference spectra entered into a database by specialists beforehand.

The researchers have already produced the first spectrometer chips and provided proof of concept.

They are now assessing the individual components movement and the transmission of light that is coupled into the waveguide.