USA: the smartphone becomes ever more analytical laboratory

By April 29, 2014

Californian startup CDx Life has developed a portable connected device designed to give people back control over what they are ingesting by enabling them to test, anytime, anywhere, the composition of solid, liquid or gaseous substances.


Many consumers worry about large-scale agriculture practices and are bothered by the various food scandals that arise from time to time.  People these days are paying increasing attention to their health, want to consume healthy produce and are keen to know the composition of their foodstuffs.  The organic food market is gaining traction but organic labels and locally produced foodstuffs are still no absolute guarantee of food quality as there is a lack of clarity regarding for example chemical treatment of fruit and vegetables, especially in the United States, where legislation in this field is rather flexible.  Now Californian startup CDx Life, whose stated mission is to help people live a more healthy life, has set out to meet the new demands of customers by providing a simple way to check on what they are eating, drinking and inhaling.  The company has developed a range of pocket devices to test the purity and composition of fruit and vegetables, and even cannabis, plus local air and water, so that ordinary folks who care deeply about such things can reassure themselves that they really are leading healthy lives.

A range of sensors for different substances

CDx Life’s test kit, called MyDx – short for ‘my diagnostics’ – comes with a set of interchangeable sensors designed to check out different types of substances.  As a first step the company is planning to market the device with its cannabis sensor, ‘Canna’, followed subsequently by three others: Organa will detect the composition – with tests especially geared to any pesticide content – of fruit and vegetables; ‘Aqua’ will check out water samples; while ‘Aero’ will assess air quality. MyDx connects up to a mobile app for iOS and Android smartphones.  It draws on more than two generations of technology developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory used by US space agency NASA.  All the user has to do is place a sample in the device’s sliding tray and wait for the results to be displayed on his/her smartphone via the app. The device heats the sample, releasing vapour, and an ‘electric nose’ detects molecules of the tested-for chemicals and substances if present. MyDx launched its first financing campaign on the crowdfunding plateform Indiegogo in March and attracted $39,939, far more than its target of $19,900. The device, plus one of the sensors, will carry a price tag of $399.

Pocket analysis lab

The company is planning to kick off sales of its test kit with the cannabis sensor, ‘Canna’, while taking pains to profile the device as a food purity analysis tool. In fact a number of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have started to show an interest in the cannabis market, potentially worth several million dollars, but their enthusiasm is still somewhat dampened by such obstacles as banks that refuse to get involved in this type of activity and a persistent veto on using the word ‘cannabis’ in advertising, on websites and when filing patents. In order to avoid any regulatory hassles, CDx is initially planning to distribute the MyDx app only in US states where cannabis consumption is authorised, and is profiling it first and foremost as a device for analysing the composition of food.  Meanwhile more and more connected objects are being designed to link up with smartphones and this type of technology is becoming smaller, cheaper and smarter.  The MyDx pocket device, usable in a variety of on-the-ground situations as a substitute for lengthier laboratory analysis, is very much in this vein.  The kit might in fact be used as a travel aid designed to avoid such nasty surprises as food poisoning and generally help to safeguard one’s health while away from home.  

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