The Star Trek Tricorder was most certainly a handy piece of kit for identifying the composition of alien materials and life forms. It seems as though a research team at Tel Aviv University have now produced a detector that has many of the properties of the fictional Tricorder device. The invention is designed to convert a standard smartphone into a powerful hyperspectral sensor, capable of identifying the chemical composition of objects from a distance.
Prof. David Mendlovic of TAU's School of Electrical Engineering and his doctoral student, Ariel Raz, have combined the two necessary parts of this invention: an optical component and image processing software. Working together with a team of researchers at Unispectral Technologies they have patented an optical component based on existing microelectromechanical or "MEMS" technology, suitable for mass production and compatible with standard smartphone camera designs. The combination of this optical component and newly designed software go further than current smartphone cameras by offering superior imaging performance and hyperspectral imaging capabilities.
"The optical element acts as a tuneable filter and the software — an image fusion library — would support this new component and extract all the relevant information from the image," said Prof. Mendlovic. The imaging works in both video and still photography.
Every material object has a hyperspectral signature, its own distinctive chemical fingerprint. Once the camera acquires an image, the data would be further analyzed to extract the hyperspectral content at any location in the image. "We are close to producing a prototype, which is scheduled for release in June," says Prof. Mendlovic. "We unveiled the demonstration system at the MWC Barcelona conference this month and received excellent feedback. A long list of fields stand to gain from this new technology and we predict hyperspectral imaging will play a major role in consumer electronics, the automotive industry, biotechnology, and homeland security."