Apple looking at using RFID tags to log food intake

Apple is considering using electronic tags to make it easier for users of its devices to count calories.

Granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office yesterday, patent number 9,640,088 describes encoding food items with RFID tags containing nutritional information. The RFID tags, which feature near-field communication (NFC), can then transmit the nutritional variables to a device such as an iPhone or Apple Watch.

“A computer-implemented method can be provided for encoding radio frequency identification (RFID) electronic tags to represent custom-order nutrition variables. At an electronic vendor device, a custom food order can be identified. At the electronic vendor device, a nutrition variable based on the custom food order can be determined. At the electronic vendor device, an RFID electronic tag can be encoded to store the nutritional variable,” the patent reads.

Its fair to say we have yet to see a wearable that truly has the ability to automatically track calories. Healbe GoBe has recently put out a second generation of their automatic calorie counting tracker, but their technology is dubious at best.

For now we are stuck with food journal apps such as MyFitnessPal, Lose It!, Noom Coach and HAPIcoach. These apps are as much about learning what’s in our meals, as they are about understanding how what we eat relates to the exercise we get. Unfortunately, as good as they are, they all require you to manually log everything into the phone.

The technology allows retailers, or electronic vending machines, to assign nutritional information on a per-item basis. In one example, the patent describes a customer ordering a hamburger with extra cheese and no ketchup, a small order of fries and a water. The RFID tag generated with the help of an electronic vendor device, identifies nutrition variables for each ordered item, as well as for the entire meal. The information is then transmitted to the users smartphone app for further analysis allowing for an easy way of recording daily eating habits.

But this potentially goes even further and the patent describes a number of techniques that could be used to determine whether a user consumed part or all of a particular food item. This could be done via sensors that determine whether they moved their arm to their mouth, or from biometric sensors measuring a user’s heart rate to indicate whether they are eating.

Of course, just because Apple was granted the patent, doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the product will ever see the light of day. And we sincerely doubt we will see this technology in the upcoming Apple Watch Series 3. But it is an intriguing idea in any case.

The full patent application can be seen here.

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