The number of smart devices is skyrocketing, so it was really only a matter of time before the internet of things invaded our dining rooms. Enter the SmartPlate, which, if used diligently, will ensure you never eat another meal without first knowing its full nutritional breakdown.
Brainchild of the Philadelphia-based startup Fitly, SmartPlate sounds like a device that belongs alongside the Star Trek Enterprise's food replicator. Apparently, the ability to rapidly analyse the composition of one's meal — from calories, carbs and fats to micro-nutrients and trace elements — is no longer a 24th century dream, but one that's in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign right now.
The tech behind the new smart device is fairly straightforward. SmartPlate uses load-sensors to weigh your food, and built-in cameras to take photos from various angles. Those images are blasted off to the cloud and cross-indexed against an existing USDA database. The SmartPlate's smarts come from machine learning algorithms, which are currently being refined to accurately identify the individual components of thousands of different meals. Fitly CEO Anthony Ortiz tells me SmartPlate can currently ID whole foods with 60-90+ per cent accuracy, and "mixed foods" such as turkey wraps and casseroles, with 70 — 90+ per cent success.
Finally, the plate relays a plethora of nutritional information to a fitness tracker, so that you can monitor everything that goes from your plate into your body at all times.
You may be thinking this sounds totally bonkers. But before we jump to conclusions, let's consider some of the people a SmartPlate might benefit. First things first: If you're a reasonably fit person without a chronic health condition, then ok, you probably don't need a SmartPlate. After all, human beings have been managing fine with good ol' fashioned dumb plates for thousands of years. And if you're just looking to count calories, a) there are plenty of websites that let you do this for free and b) you might want to find a better hobby, because calorie counting is kinda BS.
But. Say you have diabetes, and need to carefully monitor your sugar intake. Or a heart problem that requires you to watch your sodium. Maybe you're training for a marathon or trying to bulk up. Perhaps you have a life-threatening allergy — SmartPlate, Ortiz says, may eventually be able to alert its users to the presence of wheat, soy, peanuts and fish. In other words, if your health condition or lifestyle necessitates that you follow strict dietary guidelines, a product breaks down everything you're eating might be a very worthwhile investment indeed.
Or, you might just be generally interested to know what's in your food.
SmartPlate is by no means a perfect product (it's actually not a product at all yet, but let's entertain the idea for a moment). The first gen version, at least, can't go through a microwave, although it does come with a portable, microwavable lid. Neither, for that matter, is it dishwasher safe, so if hand-washing is a deal-breaker, this might not be the plate for you.
The bigger question on my mind was eating out. Because, let's face it: Most of us aren't going to bring our SmartPlate out to a restaurant (dear God, I hope we're not). Fortunately, the makers of SmartPlate thought about that, which is why the plate comes with an Android or iOS app that uses the same food recognition technology. If the app recognises food just as well as the plate, this would seem to be an reasonable work around. Because, if there's one thing social media has accomplished quite handily, it's been to turn us all into shameless amateur food photographers.
Perhaps the most serious question mark at this point is whether SmartPlate will be able to maintain an engaged userbase where a deluge of other fitness trackers are failing to hold up. We'll have to wait and see. Personally, I enjoy a little mystery to my food, so I'm not yet convinced this is the right product for me. But if mystery is not your MO — or if it simply can't be, for health reasons — then a plate that takes the secret out of eating may be exactly the internet-thing you were waiting for.
What, you don't like the plate? Slide your burger onto something else after you're done being a scientist. [Kickstarter]
Images via Anthony Ortiz / Fitly