Technical Update

Dear Indiegogo Supporters,

This is a long-overdue technical update. Although marketing and publicity efforts continue, of course, this update is about what we are doing to create the actual product which we promised to you.

TellSpec food sensor is a more difficult thing to do than we thought at first, but this does not say that we have not made a tremendous progress in our endeavor, we have. Spectroscopy is complex, and changes not only with what you are scanning, but with how old it is, how moist it is, even how smooth it is. In order to handle not only lots of different foods but also all the different conditions they may be in, we are taking a huge number of reference scans to build TellSpec’s spectrum library of food ingredients. That effort is underway, and we have concentrated initially on grain-based foods: breads, cakes, crackers etc. We have also scanned various types of dairy products, both from cows and from the likes of rice, soy, and almonds, and some fruits and vegetables. We are actively building this library and we have now well over a quarter of a million scans.

In addition to building TellSpec’s library of food scans we are working on the scanner itself. We started with a couple of uncased units cobbled together from off-the-shelf spectrometer components, and then built a couple of roughly boxed units which were easier to use and took more consistent scans. All of those were tabletop units with a wired connection to a laptop and to power.

We now have a few handheld, wireless working “beta” scanners. They are still too large, but they are suitable for demonstration purposes, and they are the mid point for our full miniaturization effort. Making the scanner small has many challenges, such as having a bright enough light to create a spectrum, but having enough space to keep it from getting too hot. There are also limits to how small the optics of the spectrometer be made. The electronics has the most scope for miniaturization, and the progress is slow and expensive. And of course the battery has to be large enough to run it all, especially the light source. That source is an incandescent bulb; LEDs don’t produce the broad and smooth infra-red output that we need. We are confident that within a few more months we will have much smaller handled wireless units.

One area of hardware research which we are pursuing right now is the choice between our current PDA (photodiode array) detector and a DLP (digital light processor, a.k.a. digital mirror device) detector. There are tradeoffs of cost, complexity, and performance for us to evaluate.

Meanwhile, our algorithms team is creating and improving our exiting machine-learning-based spectrum analysis method to find the best ways to identify and quantify the various components in the foods we scan. As you can imagine, the list of components is almost as long as the list of foods! In addition to the obvious Calories, fats, carbs, and protein there are the ingredients and additives which go into any recipe or packaged food.

Our already lists over a thousand five hundred food ingredients and their relationship to health, and there are many thousands to go. Keeping up with the chemical companies will be an on-going task.

Behind the scenes is the database and software that runs in the cloud. We have the analysis software running, and being constantly updated as the algorithms team makes improvements. The database collects scans and results for use whenever needed by the user who collected them. To come is software for supporting our users, with their own preferences for what they want to see, eg particular allergens or nutrients. Also to come is algorithms to collect your “body info”, ie how you are feeling, and make suggestions about how that relates to what you have been eating.

All in all we are progressing on many fronts, discovering and overcoming many unanticipated challenges along the way. It will be a longer road than we expected at first, but we will believe we will reach the first major goal in a 5 to 8 months, and put a TellSpec scanner in your hands. And after that we will continue to improve our cloud software and smartphone apps, to make TellSpec ever more useful to you.

We leave you with short video filmed November 8th, 2014, at the Engadget Expand in NY. We thank all of you that came to our booth to talk to us and see our demos both at this show and at the CES Unveil NY (which took place a few days later); in particular the many of you that contributed to our campaign and came directly to visit us to encourage and thank us.

Thank you!

— The TellSpec Team