An iPad Touchscreen Can Now Identify Different Kinds of Muffins Thanks to Science
This tech could be used to identify allergens or nutritional info of different baked good.
From Zooming for work to Zooming for drinks, tablets can do all sorts of things. But here's a new trick your iPad may one day be able to add: You can place a muffin on it and then have an app tell you what kind of muffin it is.
German researcher Florian Heller—who beyond being a postdoctoral researcher at Hasselt University in Belgium is also a self-described nerd and percussionist—published a paper this month called "Muffidgets: Detecting and Identifying Edible Pastry Tangibles on Capacitive Touchscreens." In more layman's terms, after discovering that muffins contained enough moisture to be recognized by a touchscreen, he created an app that uses a baking hack to determine which muffins had been placed on top of his iPad Air's screen.
Importantly, you can't take any baked goods and place them on any tablet to identify everything from cookies to cake. In fact, even within the category of muffins, the app can only identify muffins that have specifically been baked for the app. For his experiment, Heller baked in an edible "footprint" on the bottom of the muffins using circular baking wafers to create different identifying patterns. The touchscreen then recognizes the multiple points of these patterns, allowing the app to say which pastry the pattern corresponds with.
Still, despite these limitations, Heller found his experiment worked quite well. The muffins were made from standard ingredients—meaning taste wasn't affected—and the app was able to identify the patterns even with the paper cup still on (which is sanitary). The biggest problem he noted was that, as the muffin dries out, the tablet would have more trouble recognizing it—but even then, he wrote that "we expect the degradation of the electrical conductivity to be slower than the lifespan of pastry."
That does leave one final question, however: Why would you want an iPad to identify a muffin with a pattern baked into the bottom? Heller actually had some interesting thoughts. One fun application would be to tie different pastries to specific messages, images, or videos like "assigning a personal greeting to every kid at the birthday party."
But this tech could have serious applications as well. "The ID of the Muffidgets could map to information about allergens used in the baking process, such that people can verify that the piece of pastry they are about to eat will not cause negative consequences," Heller wrote. "Similarly, information for specific dietary needs can be encoded, such as the amount of calories or whether it contains dairy or animal products. The Muffidgets could also be directly connected to its recipe in case someone wants to share this information."