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.