Health and fitness monitoring is helping us all look after ourselves a little better, but there's one stumbling block: calorie intake is still self-reported, making it laborious and often inaccurate. GE, however, thinks it has a way to change that.
Researchers from the company have developed a prototype device which uses low-energy microwaves to measure the calories contained within food. The device currently requires the food be blended, because it can only provide accurate measurements if the sample it's analysing is homogeneous, but they're now working on one which will work with normal, solid foods.
Imagine: pop your dinner into a microwave to warm it up, and seconds later a message is sent to your smartphone's health tracker to tell you how many calories you're eating. It's not as far fetched as it might sound, either, because GE senior scientist Matt Webster explained to Technology Review that the device could be incorporated into kitchen appliances.
So how does it work? Well, Webster realised that accurate calorie counts can be determined using just three pieces of data: fat content, water content, and weight. Calories counts for sugar, fibre, and protein can, apparently, be fairly well approximated by subtracting water and fat weight from the total weight. Fortunately, those three key measurements can be easily recorded using low-energy microwaves.
Indeed, tests using different purees, with a mixture of oils, sugars, and water, provided results within 5 to 10 per cent of tests performed using normal destructive calories measurement techniques (that is, burning the samples). To extend the technique to work with solid food, Webster is going to use what he refers to as "virtual blending": by progressively scanning the food, say, or using complex microwave fields and some algorithms to generate average readings across a plate.
Either way, it seems that GE is keen to make a microwave that will tell you how many calories you're eating. You might not be able to lie to yourself about what exactly is in that burrito for much longer. [Technology Review]