Shoppers could use mobile phones to look under fruits’ skin

Hyperspectral imaging would allow consumers to check the ripeness of fruit and vegetables before they buy

Shoppers could soon use their mobile phones to check how ripe fruit and vegetables are with an “X-ray vision” camera.

The HyperCam, based on hyperspectral imaging, assessed ripeness with 94 per cent accuracy and could also be used to check for rotting produce in the fridge at home.

Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle, funded by Microsoft, managed to create a portable hyperspectral imaging camera that would cost $800 (£520).

Hyperspectral imaging uses a broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum than an ordinary camera.

The researchers are now working on a version of the technology that shoppers could download on to a mobile phone for about $50.

The technology is already used in satellite imaging, building safety inspection, and to assess if works of art are genuine, but is a highly costly process.

Professor Shwetak Patel, of the University of Washington, said: “It’s not there yet but the way this hardware was built you can probably imagine putting it in a mobile phone.

“With this kind of camera you could go to the grocery store and know what produce to pick by looking underneath the skin and seeing if there’s anything wrong inside. It’s like having a food safety app in your pocket.”

Cameras usually divide visible light into red, green and blue before generating an image.

But the HyperCam uses 17 different wavelengths, including near-infrared, which would flash in sequence when shoppers point it at a piece of fruit in the supermarket.

Neel Joshi, a Microsoft researcher, said: “Existing systems are costly and hard to use so we decided to create an inexpensive hyperspectral camera and explore these uses ourselves.

“After building the camera we just started pointing it at everyday objects,really anything we could find in our homes and offices, and we were amazed at all the hidden information it revealed.”

Other potential uses for the technology include analysing blood vessels and in biometric security, identifying individual people by the unique texture of their skin.

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