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Spectral Analysis using your Smartphone? There is an app for that!

Researchers at Fraunhofer find an intelligent way to use your camera


Our smartphones can do a lot of things but one thing that they weren’t used for, is Remote sensing. At least, not until researchers at the influential R&D group Fraunhofer published their work on using smartphone cameras’ for spectral analysis. (Read: App reveals constituents)

There is an app for that! 

Your iPhone/Galaxy device might have the best (smartphone) camera in the world, but it certainly doesn’t have a multi-spectral sensor embedded in it. However, HawkSpex mobile, Fraunhofer’s app, enables your smartphone to perform spectral analysis on any object that you point at – by intelligently changing the way spectral analysis is done without the need for any additional accessories such as prisms.

“Since hyperspectral cameras aren’t integrated in smartphones, we simply reversed this principle. The camera gives us a broadband three-channel sensor, that is, one that scans every wavelength and illuminates an object with different colored light. This means that, instead of the camera measuring luminous intensity in different colors, the display successively illuminates the object with a series of different colors for fractions of a second. Thus, if the display casts only red light on the object, the object can only reflect red light – and the camera can only measure red light. Intelligent analysis algorithms enable the app to compensate a smartphone’s limited computing performance as well as the limited performance of the camera and display.” – Prof. Udo Seiffert, Fraunhofer

© Photo Fraunhofer IFF

Better ground truth for Remote Sensing?

The researchers believe that the “HawkSpex Mobile” app will be useful for many applications, including verifying whether your apple contains pesticides and perhaps even in agriculture to confirm if the crops are sufficiently supplied with nutrients or fertiliser is needed.

It isn’t difficult to imagine the app being used as a cost-effective ground truth mechanism together with aerial imagery for data-driven agriculture, for example. The app will, however, not be available for public use until the end of 2017, but it certainly could spawn some interesting applications in drone remote sensing!

I am one of those passionate "Geo-geeks" and "Geo-people" who is just too excited about everything Geo and Management. Location information and spatial technologies are just too big to take a back seat and watch them revolutionize the world. Always curious and looking for ways to innovate, I guess that it comes naturally by the gene pool I inherited from an engineer Mom and a researcher Dad.


  1. Misleading article, it couldn’t be used for “remote” sensing as it relies on the light from the screen illuminating the target.

    • Unless the article was changed since you commented it doesn’t say anywhere that it would be used directly for remote sensing. It simply states that it could be a tool to use to ground truth remotely sensed data. In the agricultural example, you could scan the leaves of a plant to verify or not what you saw in reflectance values of the remotely sensed data.

      • Fair point, although the intro seems to imply that phones could now be used for remote sensing. Of course, as you say, it is talking about “ground truthing” such data, but I can see the story being misinterpreted.

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