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​Smartphone accessory 3D-scans your food to count calories

NutriRay3D's laser-scanning tech has gone to crowdfunding to bring accurate calorie counting to your smartphone.

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Visual calorie-counting apps have appeared on smartphones before, but typically involved object identification through the camera (or barcode scanning, which isn't quite the same). Other apps, with more expensive subscription costs, would direct your photos to people hired to work out what you were putting in your mouth.While this route would probably offer the most precise answers, it's also not an instant one, and learning that delicious meat pie you ate for dinner goes over your calorie count for the day is no use once it's already long gone. The NutriRay3D adds some hardware to your existing smartphone, scanning the contents of your plate with lasers for high-precision calorie and nutrient estimates -- it's looking to crowdfunding to make it all happen.

"If you're trying to lose weight, there are a lot of cell phone applications out there but you still have to measure or somehow guesstimate how much you're eating," said the University of Washington's doctoral student Sep Makhsous, who's working on the project. The NutriRay 3D's working prototype scans your food and offers up a summary of nutritional facts, not limited to just calories. It already works with 9,000 different types of food, with estimated nutritional content figures that are apparently between 87.5 and 91 percent accurate during tests. "It creates a 3D map based on where the dots align, and then you can put them all together to get the actual volume of the food," said Makhsous. Users will still have to input minor differences (is that a coke or a diet coke?), but like existing diet tracking apps, you'll be able to store recipes for food recipes you regularly use. Maybe to go inside your smart lunchbox?

The project was originally developed for nutritional epidemiologists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, but the Indiegogo campaign aims to transform it into a consumer product for everyday use. (If you're Instagramming your salad anyhow, scanning shouldn't prove too much of a leap.) The startup wants to bring its system to iOS, Android and even Windows Phone. According to their funding page, reducing the cost of production also remains a challenge. At the moment, a $199 donation gets you a scanner -- one that the team aims to miniaturize so that it plugs into your smartphone's power socket. If the project reaches its $50,000 goal, early backers might get their own calorie-scanning peripheral by September.

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