This gadget can "see" if your food is spoiled—but does it actually work?
We put Statio's Linksquare, a "smart handheld spectrometer", to the test
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Have you ever heard of Qualcomm’s X Prize? Basically, Qualcomm, the mobile tech giant, was offering a large amount of prize money to anyone who could design and build a prototype of a working tricorder, a device that was first seen on Star Trek: The Original Series.
Linksquare, a pocket-sized spectrometer, is similar to a scientific tricorder (often used by everyone’s favorite half-Vulcan, Mr. Spock), which was able to identify innumerable plants, chemicals, and materials with little to no effort on the part of the user.
Some of Linksquare’s skills include the ability to discern the freshness of meat or fish, identify the amount of cocoa in a piece of chocolate, and tell a fake Viagra pill from a real one.
How is this possible? Long story short, you press the tip of the Linksquare into the material (food, paper, pill, etc.), tell it to scan the item, and it interprets the infrared spectra that it gets back to determine if that Viagra pill is fake or real, whether your tuna is still fresh, or if that chocolate bar is 75% or 90% cocoa.
We were able to get our hands on a Linksquare, and we tested it on tuna, rib-eye steak, and chocolate. After downloading the companion Linksquare app (iOS/Android) and pairing the reader, we got to work.
First up: a slab of tuna. Using the “Tuna” skill, we pressed the tip of the reader into the tuna, and hit the “scan” button in the app. Unsurprisingly, the tuna that came fresh from the supermarket refrigerator registered as “fresh”. We cut the slab in half, and left one half out on the counter, and put one half in the fridge.
An hour later, both slabs registered as “likely spoiled”. The fish that was left out could have conceivably spoiled in an hour, but fish can last in the fridge a lot longer than an hour.
In conclusion: mixed results.
Next up: a rib eye steak. Switching over to the “beef” skill, we tested the steak the same way the fish was examined. Like the tuna, the newly purchased steak registered as “fresh”.
However, after an hour, the half of the steak that had been in the fridge came up as “likely spoiled”, and the half of the steak that was left out on the counter appeared to be “fresh”, which is the opposite of what we expected. Retaking the measurements yielded the same answers.
In conclusion: not great results.
Lastly: a series of chocolate bars, with a variety of cocoa percentages. Using the “Cocoa in Chocolate” skill, we pressed the reader into each bar of chocolate, and it easily and correctly identified the cocoa amount in each chocolate bar.
In conclusion: success!
If the chocolate worked so well, what went wrong with the meat and the fish? At its core, the Linksquare is a color reader. We use color readers in our laundry and TV testing all the time, so we’ve had some experience with this kind of device. It is a lot easier to take a reading on a flat surface (like a screen or a chocolate bar) than it is on an object with an irregular surface (i.e. meat or fish). Additionally, meat and fish can change color rapidly, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s spoiled.
A lot of things have to go right to draw a solid conclusion from a spectra reading: a flat surface, no interference from ambient light, and a large databank of baseline spectra readings that fully explore the subtleties and varieties that can occur in a given material.
Long story short: It’s a great idea, but right now, the technology is still in its infancy. We’d recommend waiting for a while so that further research will allow the Linksquare to have a broader range of skills, as well as go more in depth with the skills it already has.