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Four incredible smartphone camera technologies

Mike Elgan | March 9, 2015
At Mobile World Congress this week, four innovative companies are leveraging smartphone camera technology to do surprising new tricks.

Mobile World Congress this week ushered in a range of trends, including home automation, car automation and 5G.

One underappreciated development is the use of smartphone camera technology for things far beyond the taking of selfies and cat photos.

Here are four really innovative products demonstrated or unveiled at Mobile World Congress that use cameras with smartphones to do amazing things.

A thermal imager
A U.S. company called Flir Systems demonstrated an update to its Flir One product, a phone attachment that's capable of detecting heat signatures and heat patterns.

A previous version of the Flir One thermal imager was for the iPhone only and required a large iPhone case. The new version  (PDF) will be a dongle that works with both iOS and Android devices.

The Flir thermal imaging device doesn't use the built-in smartphone camera; it has its own optics for thermal scanning, and the Flir One app displays the results of the scans on the phone's screen in real time. The image shows people and objects with colors representing relative temperature, rather than reflected light. Warmer areas are red or yellow, while cooler surfaces show up as blue or black. The Flir One works like a camera: By pressing a button you capture a picture or video of the image you see on the screen. You can have the Flir One point toward the front or the back -- which, of course, makes it possible to take thermal selfies. (For seeing how "hot" you look!)

Flir product manager Mike Walters told me that the Flir One can be used for, say, detecting energy-losing heat leaks in your house, or for detecting electrical or plumbing problems. He also said that the company plans to ship the new Flir One "in the middle of the year" and that it may be priced at around $250.

A Star Trek-like tricorder
An Israeli company demonstrated technology that turns a smartphone into a kind of Star Trek-style "tricorder." The company, called SCiO (pronounced "sigh-oh"), said its technology is able to detect the nutritional quality of food and tell the differences between real and counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

It performs these feats by using a built-in spectrometer (a special-purpose optical sensor) to detect and analyze the molecular makeup of anything you point it at. The data harvested by the spectrometer is shuttled via Bluetooth to the phone. It's then uploaded to a cloud server and then compared against a growing database of results, making it possible to identify not only what the object is, but also properties of that object -- the sugar or fat content of foods, for example.

The SCiO is due to ship in June (if all goes according to plan) and will cost $250. It can be pre-ordered online.

 

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