5 - Consumer Physics: We let you know what you're eating

Dror Sharon  picture: Eyal Yitzhar
Dror Sharon picture: Eyal Yitzhar

The company is developing a mobile food scanner that can quantify all food ingredients.

We all create and consume information, and it sometimes seems that every question has an answer. Some questions, however, are still unsolved. What does she really think about me? What will I die from, and when? What is really in food? Consumer Physics is trying to answer the last of these questions. The company's device scans food, whether in a restaurant portion or in a dish made in a kitchen at home, and provides specifications of the contents.

Initially, the company will offer an approximate division into carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and water. Next, the product will make it possible to quantify all the nutritional elements, distinguish between different types of fat, and even identify olive oil by its quality.

In the distant future, the product will even be able to scan non-food materials. Does a baby bottle have Bisphenol A in it? Is there asbestos on my roof? Is this white pill really the drug I should be taking? These are some of the questions that Consumer Physics may answer.

The company was founded by Dror Sharon and Damian Goldring, who met when they were studying at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, and came across each other by accident years later on the Tel Aviv beach. "I was an associate in Gemini Israel Ventures and business development manager at the Colorchip optics company. I was looking for something new," Sharon says.

"Damian was a project manager at Tessera, which does image processing, and he also wanted something new. We started sitting down and looking for an idea, and we got to food quality testing from several angles. For example, in the US, people are very concerned about food allergies and contaminated food. There is a variety of voluntary health restrictions, such as vegetarian and gluten-free. People are more aware than ever of what is in food, and they have no source of information, but there's someone who knows the answer to this question. There's no mystery involved."

At the same time, he says, "The smartphone wonder happened," and Sharon realized that his product had to supply various needs while using the smartphone. "When you're talking about the product that you're developing in a start-up, and someone says, 'So when will you finish it - I need something like that,' it's a good sign, as long as you understand why such a product isn't already on the market."

Sharon and Goldring developed a scanner connected to a cellphone that tests the spectrometer measurements of any food. Spectrometry is the identification of chemical material on the basis of the light it emits when exposed to various types of radiation (in this case, infrared radiation, which as far as is known has no effect on food). Spectrometric devices exist in many laboratories, and can identify food elements in the laboratory, but Consumer Physics has miniaturized the technology and made it accessible.

As of now, the device is able to identify chemical materials on the surface of food. For example, if you have dim sum with vegetables in it, the device will analyze only the dough, unless you open the dumpling and "show" it the vegetable. The test is much more accurate if the food is similar in composition to a different food that the system recognizes. The more types of cake you show it with more or less the same proportion of oil and sugar, the better it will analyze the next cake it sees.

The company is successful at analyzing nutritional values of cheese, sauces, vegetables, and fruit. It has an initial prototype. At present, it is redesigning its product for industrial production.

Consumer Physics has 10 employees, and has raised $7 million to date from investors like Dov Moran, Khosla Ventures, and the Our Crowd angels club. The company has also raised $2.75 million on Kickstarter - one of that website's most successful financing rounds ever, which indicates that there is demand for the product.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 30, 2014

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

Dror Sharon  picture: Eyal Yitzhar
Dror Sharon picture: Eyal Yitzhar
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