Finding fakes and testing cakes using hyperspectral technology

Scientists have harnessed the power of the shrimp to fight fraud, solve murders, check teeth, combat terrorism and test the quality of jaffa cakes.

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Experts from Glasgow-based Gilden Photonics have built a range of equipment which uses the same techniques as the mantis shrimp to identify fake from reality.

Mantis shrimp

Photograph by: Alexander VaseninMantis shrimp

The aggressive sea creature, which lives mostly in the warmer waters of Australiasia, is the only life form on earth known to have hyperspectral vision which enables it to recognise different types of coral, prey and predators, all of which may appear the same colour.

Unlike the human eye, which is limited to visible light, hyperspectral imaging can detect and measure ultraviolet and infra-red.

Using similar techniques to the mantis shrimp, Gilden Photonics has developed a way of using hyperspectral imaging to collect and process information from across the electromagnetic spectrum.

Although hyperspectral imaging has been around for a few years its true potential has remained largely untapped until recently. The Global Hyperspectral Imaging Market is now expected to reach a value of £57.39 million by 2019, from an estimated value of £32.57 million in 2014.

Gilden created sensors to look at objects using a vast portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Certain objects leave unique ‘fingerprints’ across the electromagnetic spectrum. These fingerprints are known as spectral signatures and aid the identification of the materials that make up a scanned object.

Hyperspectral is used across a variety of industries ranging from crime fighting, medicine and food manufacturing to agricultural, defence and even astronomy. It is used in dentistry to detect tooth decay without drilling or x-rays, testing the quality of food and drink, in agriculture to search out weeds and pests, for national security and for crime fighting by using it to detect invisible blood splatters or identify fake bank notes and products.

It has been used to identify improvised and unexploded explosive devises, by farmers on unmanned aerial drones to identify crop problems and even to test the quality and consistency of jaffa cakes.

haul of fake perfumes

haul of fake perfumes

The system has already caused a stink among racketeers and organised gangs making millions of pounds a year from the sale of counterfeit perfume.Every year customs officials and police seize hundreds of thousands of bottles of fake scent which often contain ingredients more likely to make the wearer sick than attractive.

The technology devised by Gilden has been used to test batches of perfume just by shinning light through the contents and measuring the spectral ‘fingerprint’ of the ingredients, dramatically cutting down on the length of time it takes to investigate a cargo of suspected fake perfume

Just by comparing the spectral image of a counterfeit bottle of perfume with a genuine one the pioneering system can tell in a matter of seconds if something is a fake.

The UK fragrance market is valued at around £1.61 billion with fakes accounting for as much as 20 per cent of that which is used to fund serious organised crime to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds a year.Some fake fragrance is produced in Britain but many illegitimate versions of famous perfumes originate in Turkey, the Middle East and China.

UK Customs regularly seize quantities of fakes being shipped in from abroad, from places such as Thailand and Dubai, some of which contain all manner of unsavoury ingredients, including anti-freeze, urine and harmful bacteria.

The same hyper-spectral technology used to detect fake perfume can also identify counterfeit alcohol and pharmaceutical drugs in seconds.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to at least ten per cent of medicines globally are counterfeit with as much as a third being fake in some developing countries.

defects shown up by hyperspectral imaging

defects shown up by hyperspectral imaging

The trade of counterfeit goods is a multi-billion pound industry and one of the fastest growing economic crimes worldwide. According to the World Customs Organisation, 7 per cent of the total world trade is counterfeit.

Recently a consignment of dangerous counterfeit and unlicensed medicines worth nearly £16m were seized in a record haul by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Slimming pills, drugs for erectile dysfunction and cancer medicines were taken in a series of raids and nearly 1,400 websites were closed down as part of the operation.

“It’s amazing to me that people will buy those types of medicines over the internet,” said the MHRA’s head of enforcement, Alastair Jeffrey.

Mr Jeffrey said criminal gangs were moving into the field because, compared with illegal narcotics, sentencing was low.Prescription drugs used by millions of people every day in the UK are targeted by criminal gangs looking for quick and easy money.

Drugs such as Lipitor, which helps to reduce cholesterol, Prozac for depression, Valium to treat anxiety and Viagra for impotence problems are among the most commonly counterfeited.While gangs can expect to earn a 200 per cent return on an investment to make heroin they can recoup more than 2,000 per cent on fake prescription drugs with less risk of being caught.

“It’s two years, it’s not a police priority, you can use the internet as a facilitator, the risk is low and the profits are very high,” he said, adding that there are now “some indications” that terrorist groups are now involved in “pharmaceutical crime” in the Middle East.