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Research and innovation

Horizon prize for a food scanner

What the prize was about, why it was needed, details of winners and finalists, communication materials

The winner is announced

This €1 million prize has been split into three awards: € 800 000 went to the winner, Spectral Engines, and € 100 000 each to the two runners-up, SCiOscan and Tellspec.

Given the increase in food-related health problems, the challenge set for this €1 million prize was to develop an affordable and non-invasive mobile solution that enables users to measure and analyse their food intake.

Why this prize

Food-related health problems such as food allergies, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have grown to epidemic proportions and are taking a heavy toll on our society and our health systems.

Some figures:

  • According to the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology about 17 million Europeans suffer from food allergies, with 3.5 million of them less than 25 years of age
  • Globally about 35 % of adults are overweight, with half a billion of them obese. Obesity is affecting people at ever younger ages: today 43 million preschool children or nearly 7 % of all under-fives are overweight
  • The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimated that in Europe 35 million adults had diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) in 2011. This is projected to increase by 23%, to 43 million in 2030
  • According to the WHO, cardiovascular disease (CVD) causes more than half of all deaths across the European Region; CVD causes 46 times the number of deaths and 11 times the disease burden caused by AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined in Europe; 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable and diabetes is a major risk factor and trigger for cardiovascular disease. Healthier food intake could reduce these numbers


Winner: Spectral Engines

Spectral Engines is a Finnish start-up founded in 2014. It has a core competence in miniaturized spectrometers, turning them into plug-and-play industrial grade smart sensors. The start-up operates in several locations like Helsinki (HQ and manufacturing), Oulu (sales), US and Germany (sales reps). As a start-up, it has already demonstrated European industrial excellence in the photonics field by winning the Photonics West 2016 Prism Award in the 'Detectors and Sensors' category.

Spectral Engines was able to develop in a very short time-frame a food scanner prototype based on Near Infrared Spectroscopy, along with a Bluetooth connection to a mobile device and data connection to a Cloud server. Its food scanner prototype is compact and provides real-time results at a comparatively low price.

According to the jury, Spectral Engines provides a major step forward towards better food-sensor devices and may play a significant role in the emerging field of the 'Internet of Food' and smart personal nutrition. Unlike the other contestants the Finnish start-up had developed both food scanning hardware and software. The SME receives 800k€ in prize money.

Spectral Engines website

Runner up: SciOscan

SCiOscan is an Israeli data company that offers food analysis. Its solution is essentially a miniaturized, inexpensive version of technology that lab scientists have been using for years to determine the physical composition of various materials. SCiO's handheld widget comes with apps that can report the physical composition of food and pharmaceuticals.

SciOscan website

Runner up: TellSpec

Tellspec is a London-based branch of a Canadian company, which developed a spectroscopic sensor. Their solution combines spectral sensors, bio-informatics techniques and learning algorithms. The handheld Tellspec food sensor is portable, costs a fraction of large lab equipment, and provides real-time, non-destructive food analysis.

TellSpec website