Technology that traced Osama bin Laden now used to extend life of cakes

America’s navy seals used it to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Now the technology that helped track the elusive terrorist is at the centre of another top mission: to help to enhance the life of cakes in British bakeries.

Strathclyde University has been awarded a grant to examine how the imaging used on the helicopters that surrounded Bin Laden’s Pakistan compound in 2011 might be used to perfect cupcakes, Victoria sponges and a host of other staples of the British diet.

They are working with a British food company, Lightbody, to try to accurately plot the deterioration of a cake and formulate a recipe with the best fat, sugar and liquid proportions for taste and shelf life.

Hyperspectral imaging cameras can be used to determine viewed objects’ temperatures; chemical compositions; and moisture, fat and sugar contents.

Therefore, hyperspectral imaging techonology has potential applications in diverse areas such as pharmaceuticals, food technology and security. Unlike conventional colour cameras, which capture light in just three spectral windows, hyperspectral cameras have the ability to capture an entire section of the electromagnetic spectrum at every pixel.

“With hyperspectral imaging, you can tell the chemical content of a cake just by taking a photo of it. That allows the baker to optimise the process for shelf life and taste. It tells you what’s going on, how the sugars are breaking down, how the fats are breaking down. If bakers can get the formula right, they can extend the shelf life and sell their cakes further afield,” said Stephen Marshall, professor of image processing at the university.

In a military context, hyperspectral imaging captures hundreds of values in the electromagnetic spectrum which enable scientists to identify objects without sending them to a laboratory.

A hi-tech snapshot creates an electromagnetic “fingerprint” of the objects which can be used to identify minerals, crop disease, and movements of people and vehicles under military surveillance.

In the hunt for Bin Laden, it would have identified movements of people and vehicles simply by capturing changes in the grounds surrounding the terrorist’s compound.

Strathclyde and Lightbody received a grant of £25 000 from the Interface Food & Drink, a Scottish fund designed to forge links between business developers and academic research.

Howell Davies of Interface said: “You can basically take a picture of something and analyse the product without taking it away for testing in a lab. You can see things that you can’t see with the human eye.”

Source: Strathclyde University, The Guardian