Unispectral gets $7.5M for smartphone hyperspectral camera with food-scanning aspirations

By Jonah Comstock

Unispectral, an Israeli startup developing technology created at Tel Aviv University, has raised $7.5 million. The round was led by Jerusalem Venture Partners, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Samsung Catalyst Fund and The Tel Aviv University Technology Innovation Momentum Fund. 

Unispectral is developing a hyper-spectral digital camera that could eventually be built into a smartphone. The camera boasts improved resolution and low light performance, but the most interesting aspect is that it miniaturizes a sensor that would allow the camera to detect an object's "hyperspectral signature" -- electromagnetic identifiers not visible to the human eye. Paired with a sophisticated database of these signatures, the camera could act like a spectrometer, identifying the chemical makeup of foods or drinks it photographs.

"The optical element acts as a tunable filter and the software — an image fusion library — would support this new component and extract all the relevant information from the image," Tel Aviv University Professor David Mendolvic said in a release from the university last year. "We predict hyperspectral imaging will play a major role in consumer electronics, the automotive industry, biotechnology, and homeland security."

In an interview with Israeli newspaper Globes, Unispectral CEO Rami Feig discussed some possible health-related applications.

"The component that we are developing can break down light for other components. Hundreds of shades," he said. "This technology allows us to check if a certain fruit is fresh and if a drug before us is branded or fake and whether milk contains bacteria."

Consumer spectrometry for health purposes has something of a muddy recent history in digital health: three different companies that have attempted to tackle the space have  (we summed up that story in an article last November). On the other hand, a small handheld spectrometer called SCiO, from Consumer Physics (another Tel Aviv company) still seems like it's on the level.

In any event, building the spectrometer directly into a smartphone camera would add a new level of convenience to the offering, and the presence of Samsung as an investor could indicate an early interest in incorporating this technology into Samsung phones when it's ready.