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Nutrition at checkout

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Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images

EMIEW3

Daniel Pinelo

Technology

Nutrition at checkout

A new app incentivizes healthy eating

Poor diet can lead to poor health. Vulnerable population groups, such as older Americans, suffer from malnutrition because much of the food they buy, though inexpensive, is lacking in essential nutrients.

A prize-winning app developed by a pair of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management could lead to healthier food choices—though perhaps at the expense of medical privacy.

The app, called ValueMe, uses U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional databases to analyze a shopper’s food purchases at the checkout register for the vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and protein needed for a healthy diet.

“When they’re printing your receipt, [you] will receive a nutrition snapshot of everything that you purchased and it will analyze if there are components or nutrients that are missing in your diet,” said Malena Gonzalez, a member of the ValueMe team, in an MIT press release. “This provides, at the point of sale, education for consumers on how healthy they’re eating.”

But the app comes with a significant privacy problem: The shopper at checkout must swipe a health insurance card,  and nutritional information goes to the insurance provider, which in turn can provide instant discounts for healthier food purchases.

Discounts are good, but they’d be an expensive trade-off if insurance companies or government healthcare providers one day use grocery list data to determine premiums and benefits.

Judges at MIT’s IDEAS Global Challenge last month were nevertheless impressed with the ValueMe app: They awarded the app a $15,000 first-place prize and said it “could trigger a systematic change in the food industry.” The ValueMe team plans to put its prize money toward a pilot program with a grocery store in Philadelphia.

Robot assistance

If you’ve ever been lost in a foreign airport, or not sure where to find an item in a large store, you know the feeling of relief when someone approaches you and asks, “Is there anything I can help you with?” In a few years, that “someone” may be a robot.

Hitachi just introduced a helper robot designed to identify and assist people in stores or public places who look as if they need help. Named EMIEW3, the robot uses state-of-the-art voice and language processing technology that allows it to assist customers looking for help in four different languages, according to Tech Times.

EMIEW3 is able to answer questions and even complete a sale with the help of other sales-bots. The 33-pound robot can roll alongside its human customers at a brisk pace of just under 4 mph and can set itself upright if knocked over in the hustle of a crowded shopping aisle.

Following a planned launch in Japan in 2018, Hitachi says it will extend EMIEW3 services worldwide. —M.C.

Mosquito tire trap

The mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus like to lay their eggs in the stagnant water that collects in old, discarded tires. Armed with this knowledge, Canadian researchers have built an effective mosquito trap that is made from a tire and could help fight the spread of the disease.

The researchers fill the bottom tire section of the trap with water and a solution that attracts mosquitoes. The insects lay their eggs on a strip of paper placed on the solution. Pheromones released by the female mosquitoes attract even more mosquitoes. Researchers then regularly check the paper for eggs, then burn it or sterilize it with alcohol.

In a 10-month test in Guatemala, the low-tech trap collected almost seven times as many eggs as other traps, according to Grand Challenges Canada, which funded the project. —M.C.