Dun­can Bell sees the fu­ture

There’s no in­no­va­tion in mo­bile any­more? How about a phone that can recog­nise cheeses?

T3 - - Opinion -

We were sit­ting there when a deaf­en­ing fire alarm went off and the room filled with smoke

The prob­lem with do­ing my job is that it be­comes more dif­fi­cult to find any tech that’s truly new, or to ex­pe­ri­ence some­thing re­ally unique. You get ever so jaded af­ter 57 phone and wear­able launches.

How­ever, last week I saw some­thing truly awe­some, at a truly un­usual event. And now I am go­ing to tell you about that.

Have you heard of BASF? If you’re above a cer­tain age, you’ll re­mem­ber their cas­sette tapes

– the ’70s and ’80s an­swer to Spo­tify. It’s ac­tu­ally a Ger­man mega-cor­po­ra­tion, and the world’s largest pur­veyor of chem­i­cals. It made over ¤64 bil­lion in 2017.

Now, it was throw­ing an event in Lon­don’s Covent Gar­den that promised some­thing new, mys­te­ri­ous, glam­orous and techy. Who could re­sist?

Am­mo­nia is not sexy

The first thing I couldn’t help notic­ing on ar­rival was that the peo­ple or­gan­is­ing the event all seemed stressed as hell. One of them even whis­pered to me that, “They’re very de­mand­ing!” Well they are, aren’t they? The Ger­mans.

There then un­folded a bizarre evening out, where I found my­self hav­ing din­ner sat next to the CEO of a chem­i­cals giant that turns over 64 bil­lion Eu­ros. Martin Bru­d­er­müller; very nice chap.

What I found flat­ter­ing about this was that, while I wouldn’t go out of my way to curry favour with giant chem­i­cals firms, this giant chem­i­cals firm was very keen to curry favour with me. Okay, not me per­son­ally, but me as an emis­sary from the glam­orous twin worlds of tech and me­dia.

“Am­mo­nia is am­mo­nia!”

Martin said at one point. “Am­mo­nia is not sexy!” which seemed like a fair point. We all had plenty of time to talk, the Ger­mans and me – and the In­sta­gram­mers, vlog­gers and blog­gers who made up the rest of the night’s au­di­ence.

That’s be­cause din­ner took a stag­ger­ing amount of time to ar­rive. Hours. Then a fire alarm went off, and wouldn’t stop for 20 min­utes, be­cause it turned out no­body knew the de­ac­ti­va­tion code.

So there we were, sit­ting po­litely but hun­grily toy­ing with our wine, at a launch thrown by a 64-bil­lionEuro chem­i­cals giant, while a deaf­en­ing alarm went off and the room filled with smoke – although not so much smoke that any­one moved a mus­cle to­wards the exit. Hun­gry peo­ple are ever so hard to dis­lodge from the din­ner ta­ble.

With the Ger­mans and the kitchen chaos, it was a bit like be­ing in an episode of Fawlty Tow­ers. Per­haps the so­cial me­dia peo­ple were all tweet­ing, “Been wait­ing an hour for my main course and now the kitchen’s on fire #BASF”.

Oh. You want to know about the prod­uct? Yes, sorry. So, the prod­uct BASF sub­sidiary tri­namiX was launch­ing had the rather bril­liantly Ger­man name of Herzt­stück™, and Herzt­stück™ is some­thing new, all right.

It’s a tiny sen­sor that BASF wants to put in third-party de­vices, with smart­phones the nat­u­ral favourite. You can point it at cheese and it’ll tell you if it’s ve­gan or dairy. At the launch demo, it could do that, and recog­nise the dif­fer­ence be­tween su­gar and var­i­ous types of ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­ener.

In the fu­ture, it could do more. It could tell law en­force­ment of­fi­cers whether that sus­pi­cious pow­der is ac­tu­ally nar­cotics – and tell crim­i­nals how pure it is. Or tell you if that mar­ket-stall tie is re­ally silk.

The most ob­vi­ous use would be recog­nis­ing al­ler­gens and pathogens in food, and telling you defini­tively when food has gone off. As such, it could save lives and re­duce food waste.

Sure at the mo­ment, it mainly does cheese and sweet­en­ers, but what BASF has in­vented here is the Tri­corder from Star Trek. Some­thing able to recog­nise any­thing just by us­ing in­fra-red light, and magic. When, one day, you find your­self point­ing your iPhone XXIII at a watch and say­ing, “That’s not real gold Rolex, what are you try­ing to pull here?” re­mem­ber you read it here first. Now, where’s my dessert?

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