Duncan Bell sees the future
There’s no innovation in mobile anymore? How about a phone that can recognise cheeses?
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?