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Cleantech
Could the 'Internet of Food' Revolutionize Personal Nutrition?

In the era of personalization and connectivity, the way we interact with food could change drastically in the near future. With conceptual 3D printers for meat on the table and specialized accelerator programs for food-focused technology startups already running, changes are well underway. Professor Maged Boulos from the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland is considering how the ‘Internet of Things’ concept could be applied to food. How will technology and connectivity influence people’s diets?

In the era of personalization and connectivity, the way we interact with food could change drastically in the near future. With conceptual 3D printers for meat on the table and specialized accelerator programs for food-focused technology startups already running, changes are well underway. Professor Maged Boulos from the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland is considering how the ‘Internet of Things’ concept could be applied to food. How will technology and connectivity influence people’s diets?

“Such an ‘internet of food’ could provide context and user-specific diet insights and ‘intelligent’ recommendations based on individuals’ health needs, circumstances and profiles at any given time,” Boulos wrote in a blog post.

He gave the example of an ‘automated food scanner’ that could identify food items and their contents, a technology that he says would be particularly beneficial for consumers and patients with dietary conditions. It could track cumulative intakes and toxicity, and could warn people about particular ingredients. For example, people suffering from celiac disease could scan a food item to be notified if it contains gluten and therefore whether it is safe for them to eat.

“People with diabetes could benefit from a closer look at the carbohydrates profile of their diet and those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease might appreciate automated checks on the amounts of salt and saturated fats in their meals.”

This scanning technology already emerging in the form of apps, devices and methods such as: barcode scanning, weighing with portable electronic scales, vision-based measurement of volume/weight/portion size by smartphone camera photos, remote food and drink recognition by crowdsourced volunteers or dieticians using smartphone photos of meals sent over the Internet and/or using a handheld sensor/scanner communicating wirelessly with a specialised smartphone app.

“However, these methods are of limited value if we cannot further reason with the identified food and drink items in the context of a user’s health conditions and preferences,” Boulos noted.

Many of the methods rely on databases to match a scanned item to something in a list to identify it. Such databases are based on ontologies, or the formal namings of sets of concepts within a domain, the professor explains. His research found that the existing ontologies are not fully comprehensive in scope and coverage, which is limiting technological advancement. He states that a sufficiently advanced application would need detailed ontologies on: individual user characteristics and health status/medical history; the best, current clinical evidence about nutrition/dietetics and disease conditions; and knowledge of different foods and drinks, local cuisine characteristics/cooking habits, commercial food and drink product offerings, etc. which vary by country and region.

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