Over the years, MobiHealthNews has written about various efforts to create consumer sensors for food allergies, but they've mostly been relegated to proof of concept or research projects. Now, according to TechCrunch, startup 6SensorLabs has raised $4 million in seed funding to tackle the problem, starting with gluten detection.
The round was led by Upfront Ventures and included contributions from SoftTech VC, Lemnos Labs, Kapor Capital, SK Ventures and Xandex Investments. Lemnos Labs is an accelerator the company has been participating in. 6SensorLabs' first product is called the Canary sensor.
"The team is developing a portable and flexible technology platform designed for consumers, empowering them to test their food and share their results anywhere and anytime," Lemnos Labs writes on its website. "Their first product is a gluten sensor, supporting the millions of American who have a gluten intolerance and who frequently get sick from hidden gluten in their food. They have developed a sensing technology that is 10X faster than existing methods to test food for gluten. The 6SensorLabs patent-pending technology platform extends beyond gluten, with incredible possibilities for the rapid detection of any toxin in our food."
In addition to testing food and returning a result, the sensor will send the data to the user's smartphone and allow the user to record and store the results of each meal. Eventually, according to 6SensorLabs' website, the startup will collect enough data to start building crowdsourced maps of gluten free food items and restaurants that will be accessible from the app.
TechCrunch reports that the device will cost less than $150, but will include disposable components that would come at an additional cost.
One previous attempt to build a similar device was developed by Aydogan Ozcan's lab at University of California Los Angeles. Called the iTube, it was able to identify peanuts, almonds, eggs, gluten and hazelnuts using a spectrometer attached to the iPhone camera and display the concentration in parts per million. So far the device has not emerged as a consumer product.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne launched a similar research project in May 2013. The system, consisting of an iPhone cradle and an app, could detect viruses, bacteria, toxins, proteins and even allergens in food using the smartphone’s camera as a spectrometer and the powerful processor to make calculations.
A couple of other devices have played in this space but steered clear of making medical claims like preventing allergic reactions. SCiO, a tiny smartphone-connected spectrometer, raised $2 million on Indiegogo and another $4 to 5 million from Khosla Ventures in June. "SCiO is NOT a medical device and should NOT be relied on to protect you from allergens, from gluten, or from lactose,” the company's crowdfunding campaign page stated — emphasis SCiO’s. Another similar device, called TellSpec, raised $380,000 on Kickstarter for a similar device, but the veracity of that company's claims has been called into question.