Miniaturized Spectral Sensing Can Boost Health Monitoring

Smartwatches are in demand for spectral image sensors due to the need to differentiate themselves.

Image credit: Onur Binay, Unsplash

Are you unhappy with the way your smartphone camera reproduces colors? Would you like your phone or another home gadget to recognize various materials or even determine whether food is fresh? The answer lies in the newly developed field of multispectral cameras and tiny spectrometers. These inexpensive gadgets can expose information that was previously accessible through specialized equipment because they detect spectral information rather than just straightforward RGB color coordinates.

A developing tendency to detect optical information beyond what the eye can detect involves gathering spectral information with reasonably priced sensors. As machine vision technology advances, algorithms need input data that is more extensive than what can be obtained from traditional RGB sensors, reports PrintedElectronicsWorld.

IDTechEx's report, "Emerging Image Sensor Technologies 2023-2033: Applications and Markets", covers a wide range of these emerging image sensor types, including shortwave infrared (SWIR) sensors based on organic semiconductors, quantum dots or germanium, event-based vision, hyperspectral imaging, quantum imaging, and more.

Opportunities for Use

Smartphones are in demand for spectral image sensors due to the need to differentiate themselves by incorporating more functionality. Fraunhofer ENAS, a German research organization, stated in 2021 that it aimed to create infrared spectrometers for smartphone integration that weighed 1 gram and cost US$1. Compared to traditional infrared spectrometers, which may cost thousands of dollars and weigh several kilos, this is a significant improvement. The low-cost spectrometer developed by Fraunhofer will be able to examine food deterioration, assess air quality, and identify phony pharmaceuticals and medications.

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The early-stage Belgian business Spectricity is a significant player in the commercialization of inexpensive spectral sensing. It unveiled its first product earlier this year, a miniature multispectral image sensor that can identify 16 color channels in the visible spectrum. As smartphones are the target market and camera quality influences many customer buying decisions, the higher spectral resolution compared to conventional sensors enables more accurate color reproduction.

Wearable health monitoring is another consumer application that spectral sensing can help with. While smartwatches now use LED light sensors to detect heart rate, oxygen levels, sleep patterns, and respiration rates, more advanced sensors would offer additional capability. One of the developing SWIR (short wave infrared) detection technologies, such as quantum dots, may spectrally resolve wavelengths above 1000 nm, allowing the identification of biomarkers that are invisible to visible and NIR light. Then, wearable technology may measure levels of glucose, lactate, hydration, and alcohol, widening its application and offering a point of distinction from the present crop of smartwatches with increasingly similar features.

Miniaturized spectrometers and multispectral cameras are anticipated to become more popular alongside consumer electronics for industrial inspection and robotics since their modest weight enables integration into current machinery. The challenges of object recognition and material distinction hold the most promise. When trying to discern between two materials that are visually identical, such as different polymers or oil and water, spectral resolution is extremely useful.

Miniaturized spectrometers and multispectral sensors promise to expand the capabilities of mobile gadgets, portable electronics, and industrial image inspection equipment due to their cost and small design. Smartwatches, smartphones, and even robotic vacuums can now use features that were previously exclusive to laboratories.

Sam Draper
April 3, 2023

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