Calorie-counting microwave on the horizon?

Researchers at GE are developing a device that could instantly estimate the calories in a plate of food at the press of a button.

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One possible look for GE's instant calorie counter. GE
You might think that nothing good could come out of a husband asking his wife if she would like an activity tracker as a birthday present. And, indeed, when GE senior scientist Matt Webster proposed the gift to his wife, she flat out refused -- but not for the reason you might think. Her answer to her tinkering husband was that an activity tracker simply wasn't good enough; she wanted something that could also easily track the calories in the food she was eating.


Being a good husband, a cell biologist, and kind of a genius, Webster set out to create such a device.

He eventually arrived at the concept of using something we already beam our food with -- microwaves. He and his team at GE Global Research in upstate New York created a machine that took advantage of the fact that microwaves penetrate fat and water differently. The result is a gizmo that can estimate a food's calorie content by using just three measurements derived from a dose of microwave energy: fat, water and weight. The rest of the caloric information is extrapolated from these metrics.


According to a video about the invention (embedded below), the method has accurately predicted the calorie content of the foods fed into it over the course of 40-50 experiments with a variation of only 5 to 10 percent.

The next step for the researchers is to create a device that's easy for consumers to use. One version would go on top of a plate of food and then, with a press of a button, you'd know how many calories you're about to ingest. Sounds like a useful gadget indeed. But my advice? Don't offer it to your significant other as a birthday present. He or she might not be as understanding as Webster's wife.

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Crave
Sci-Tech
About the author

Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for Crave and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.

 

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