Every meal can be a minefield when you suffer from severe food allergies. So researchers at UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a sort of mine detector for food that's able to analyse, detect and warn a user about food allergens before they dig in.
Dubbed the iTube for the time being, the 57g smartphone accessory relies on a test tube-based allergen test called a colorimetric assay. In its current form the detector is considerably smaller than the desktop machines used to analyse foods in a lab setting, and so can be easily taken to restaurants or anywhere someone isn't 100 per cent sure about the ingredients being used in their food.
But the results aren't quite instant just yet. Using the iTube to detect the presence of nuts, eggs, gluten or other allergens first requires a sample to be ground up and mixed with water and an extraction solvent for a few minutes, followed by a series of other chemicals in a step-by-step process. The resulting mixture is then visually analysed by a custom app using the smartphone's camera which can actually determine the concentration of the allergen in the food, not just whether or not it's present.
All-in-all the test takes about 20 minutes to complete with the current version of the hardware. And while its performance will certainly be improved over time, if you have dangerous food allergies that's not a terribly long time to wait if it guarantees you won't suffer a terrible reaction. [UCLA via Gizmag]