Washington: Peering into a grocery store bin, it is hard to tell if a peach or tomato or an avocado is starting to go bad underneath its skin.
But now you can tell which piece of fruit is perfectly ripe or what is rotting in the fridge thanks to a new camera technology being developed by a team led by an Indian-origin scientist at the University of Washington in collaboration with Microsoft Research.
"With this kind of camera, you could go to the grocery store and know what produce to pick by looking underneath the skin and seeing if there is anything wrong inside. It is like having a food safety app in your pocket," said professor Shwetak Patel from Washington University.
Notably, the HyperCam - a hyperspectral camera that uses both visible and invisible near-infrared light to "see" beneath surfaces and capture unseen details - is quite affordable.
This type of camera is typically used in industrial applications and can cost between several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars.
The new hardware solution costs roughly $800, or potentially as little as $50 to add to a mobile phone camera.
They also developed intelligent software that easily finds "hidden" differences between what the hyperspectral camera captures and what can be seen with the naked eye.
"It's not there yet, but the way this hardware was built you can probably imagine putting it in a mobile phone," Patel said.
When HyperCam captured images of a person's hand, for instance, they revealed detailed vein and skin texture patterns that are unique to that individual.
In a test of HyperCam's utility as a biometric tool, the system was able to differentiate between hand images of users with 99 percent accuracy among 25 different users.
The findings were presented at the UbiComp 2015 conference at Osaka, Japan.