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Read the chemical make-up of food and medicine with your phone

Osram will offer up to partners its embeddable LED chip that turns your phone or blender into a personal spectrometer.

Josh Miller/CNET

Imagine using your phone to scan a batch of tomatoes to find the ripest one. Or maybe you'd buy a scanner that can confirm the chemical components of a Tylenol pill. That's the promise of German lighting manufacturer Osram's SFH 4735 embeddable emitter, a tiny chip designed for us in consumer electronics.

You might have seen the Osram chip in a small handheld scanner called Scio, which hit the market in 2016. The chip has a number of uses. It can measure soil content. It can track your body fat over time. For food, it can give you various measurements, like sugar or starch content, or it can single out a specific chemical, but the chip can only give you readings about homogenous food items. It can tell you the cacao makeup of a piece of chocolate, but it can't tell you how much cheese is in a piece of pizza. Bosch reported the same limitations for its similar X-Spect concept we saw this past summer. 

Scio came about because its maker, the Israeli firm Consumer Physics, approached Osram directly. What's significant about Osram's chip now is that the company has begun marketing the technology to third party device makers. Osram says it expects three consumer products using its new chip to come to market before the end of 2018. You'll want to keep in mind the limitations of any device that claims to be a food scanner, but for chefs, farmers, pharmacists, and other, the chip has some great potential. 

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