‘Don’t eat too much!’ Baidu’s smart chopsticks will help you stick to your diet

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 March, 2015, 11:46am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 March, 2015, 11:59am

Future chopsticks may not only be able to detect if food is unsafe to eat, but also, based on the data collected, warn if you have had too much meat and too little nutrients in recent meals.

That is the vision Chinese internet giant Baidu has for its so-called “smart chopsticks”, according to people familiar with the still in-development product.

A patent application that was made public this week revealed more information about the chopsticks for the first time since Baidu founder and chief Robin Li Yanhong showed them off at Baidu's annual developers' conference in Beijing. At the same event, Baidu also unveiled its challenger to Google Glass, the "Baidu Eye". 

The patent for “food testing methods and devices” outlines how the unit can analyse foods in real-time by touching them with the chopsticks or placing the food inside the device's base module, and checking the data gathered against an internal catalogue of known foodstuffs. It will then transmit the results to a smartphone app.

Submitted in November and only made public until this week, the application contains images of the base module that came with the smart chopsticks, previously shown in video demonstrations.

The images also show what is likely the app's interface, which lets users choose among four food categories – general cooked dish, drink, fruit, or meat - before testing.

The results page tells users, for instance, that the food tested is an apple that most likely was imported from the US, and that it contains 52 calories per 100g serving.

The app would then be able to make dietary suggestions based on the data collected over a period of time, according to the person familiar with the project. For instance, it would recommend consuming less sugar if the data showed you have had too much of it in the past week.

It would then be a natural extension for the app to give recommendations as to where to dine, what to have, and even how to get to the restaurant, based on users’ location.

The chopsticks can also detect temperature and if food was cooked using “gutter oil” – reused cooking oil that is potentially toxic – and future models will flag up contaminated water and measure salt levels, the company said in September.

A video demonstration of the unit suggests that the base module could also contain a pocket-sized spectrometer.

Watch: Video released by Baidu last year shows the smart chopsticks in action

Baidu has not decided yet whether to mass produce and market the product, but preliminary results have been positive, the firm said.

The device was born of an April Fool video and the firm had no intention of actually pursuing the idea at the time, but the amount of hype it generated prompted their researchers to seriously look into it.

Food scandals have rocked Chinese consumer confidence in recent years and remain of high concern, particularly for parents. In 2008, tainted baby milk killed at least three infants and caused thousands more to fall seriously ill. In July last year, five men were arrested for selling “rotten” meat to big food chains including McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks.

Baidu is not the only company to see opportunity in food scandals, a Hong Kong-based start-up recently announced a sophisticated new food-testing technology using fish embryos that it hopes to market to Chinese manufacturers.