The next time you pull out your phone to document the dish you’re about to dig in to, you might have a reason beyond the usual humble Instagram brunch brag. SRI, the people who brought you Siri, including members of the team who helped invent HD television are developing a new technology that will count calories and calculate portion size for you. All you’ll have to do, is snap a pic.
The future app (the folks at SRI call it Ceres for now) will use image recognition to figure out exactly what you’re munching on, calculating portion size and calorie count through your camera. The idea is simply that: “If a human can recognize the food, so can the app.”
Ceres still has issues to work around, like not always being able to detect hidden fats like oils or butter in food — join the club, Ceres — and we would assume the same goes for healthy substitutions. Will Ceres be able to tell that our black bean brownies are way less naughty than your unsuspecting sweet tooth will? Maybe, if it can also figure out that we made ‘em in-house at Brit HQ. SRI hopes to incorporate context clues about your location, and maybe even heard conversations at the table you’re eating at to help Ceres compare with other food logging services or places you’ve noshed in the past. The app could ask you more questions to come up with a better range of calories, too.
The technology won’t be coming to a phone near you for about another year, but when it does it could help you track your diet on a personal level and, bigger picture, work on building a database of food everyone from consumers, to businesses and restaurants to the government could tap into. If it cracks the code of figuring out food’s “secret ingredients,” it could also be a tool for diabetics or people with severe allergies and intolerances.
If you want to test out a similar idea now, MealSnap is an iOS app ($2.99) you can download. With MealSnap, you take a pic and it uses Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to give you a calorie estimate. They even offer you the option to share your picture + all the deets straight from the app so you can carry on with your social snacking.
Do you use an app to count calories or help you with portion control?