Danica Harbaugh Reynaud, PhD is known to many in the supplements sector as a pioneer of DNA testing, having founded AuthenTechnologies. Along with her business partner husband Dan Reynaud, she has now founded BriteScan, which leverages AI and a smartphone camera to “authenticate materials instantly, accurately and affordably from anywhere in world”.
“When you think about the technology on a modern phone, you can unlock it with your thumb print. BriteScan uses the same technology to evaluate and identify materials at the pixel level,” Dr. Reynaud told us.
There are already programs that allow the amateur botanist to identify plants in the field with images taken on a smartphone camera, and Dr. Reynaud said the idea was to apply that same analysis of images using AI to more processed materials.
“I can see differences in dried herbs as a trained botanist, so I realized that a computer certainly should be able to so we started doing some studies to see how effective AI was at doing the same,” she said.
Chopped and powdered herbs have small, subtle characteristics that can be used to differentiate them. “Unlike whole living plants, taking pictures of chopped oregano and powdered cinnamon in a bowl won’t be able to identify them very well.” So the first challenge was to create a controlled environment to facilitate the detection of these minute differences. This led to the development of “The Little White Box”, said Dr. Reynaud. The box is portable and simple yet an integral part of making this high-tech system work. Samples are inserted onto a tray for imaging and a smartphone is placed on top to take the pictures.
Coupled with this is the cloud-based BriteScan AI software which automatically evaluates all visual aspects of images such as color, texture, and size, in only a few seconds- even those not detectable by the human eye.
“This is not necessarily a replacement for other analytical tests,” she said, “but a quick and easy check that can be performed anywhere along the supply-chain for less than the cost of lunch."
"Both common and unexpected adulterants can be detected,” she added. “While it wouldn’t be able to identify an unknown adulterant, the resulting probability of identification would be low, serving as a red flag that a follow-up test using another method is necessary.” In other words, BriteScan is another portable weapon in the analytical arsenal.
Proof of concept
The first project to “test the test” was to develop a tool for species and plant part authentication for over 200 dried culinary and medicinal herbs and spices, explained Dr. Reynaud. This led to collaboration with several major herb and dietary supplement manufacturers.
There is also interest from the coffee industry (verification of the source of Kona coffee), and the spice industry (estimation of the salt concentration in a seasoning blend). It has also been used to evaluate the bulk density of black peppercorns and identify the species of fish fillets, said Dr. Reynaud.
In addition, there is interest from the Cannabis industry for verifying strains.
According to Dr. Reynaud, BriteScan has the power to identify specific lots, confirm geographic origin, differentiate between close relatives, detect low-levels of biological and non-biological adulterants and filth all with a single picture.
In addition to building ready-to-go tools for herb and spice authentication and verification of Kona coffee, BriteScan has developed an easy-to-use tool for companies to create their own customized private databases in only a few minutes to analyze “virtually any material that can fit into the BriteScan Box including solids, liquids and powder”. And unlike many traditional methods that require highly-trained experts, expensive machinery, and a laboratory, BriteScan can be used by amateurs, in the field, without the need to ship samples, saving significant time and cost.
“When we started BriteScan, our mission was only to develop an AI tool that could be used as an alternative to traditional methods of herb authentication. We soon realized that it had the ability to do so much more. Now we see BriteScan leveling the playing field and democratizing testing by providing an affordable and accurate solution that is accessible to everyone along the supply-chain from the farmer to the consumer.”