A woman leans away from the counter inside a crowded nightclub to talk to her friend. As she turns back moments later, she notices that her drink is ready and waiting for her on the counter. She habitually rummages in her satchel for her smartphone and places it next to her drink.
She is making sure the drink has not been spiked with any of the incapacitating agents unceremoniously called date-rape drugs.
The glass is fitted with a plate no larger than a postage stamp that, powered by an inductive link, generates an electromagnetic field that permeates the contents of the glass, producing detailed data on the composition of the drink. The data are analysed in the cloud and the results sent to the end user.
The woman checks her smartphone. She is good to go, it says. She slides her smartphone back into her satchel and obliges, taking a sip of her drink.
This is one exhibit of the multitude of potential near-future applications of a liquid measurement solution developed and commercialised by ColloidTek, a startup founded last year by a group of scientists from the Tampere University of Technology* and executives from companies such as Metso, Siemens and Valmet.
“What we’re doing is basically identifying the fingerprints of liquids,” summarises Ilkka Sillanpää, a co-founder of ColloidTek. “Every liquid has a unique fingerprint. No two are the same, just like no two human fingerprints are the same.”
The startup has developed a probe for in-liquid and a plate for non-intrusive measurements. Both methods generate an alternating current electromagnetic field that causes the particles and molecules in the liquid being analysed to move. These can then be identified by measuring how much energy they absorb from the electromagnetic field.
“This is what we mean by fingerprints,” explains Matti Järveläinen, a co-founder and the chief executive of ColloidTek.
From businesses to crowds and consumers
ColloidTek is presently focused primarily on the B2B area, serving a growing number of public utilities, industry leaders and research institutions. Its current customers include IDO Bathroom, Nokian Vesi, Nordkalk, Outotec, the Satakunta University of Applied Sciences and Teollisuuden Voima (TVO).
The customers typically use the solution to ensure qualitative consistency and develop a better understanding of their processes to save time, money and energy.
Järveläinen reveals that the next step will be to expand into what he calls the business-to-crowd area by offering the solution to facilities such as customs, nightclubs and drug rehab clinics. This, in turn, should open the door to consumer markets in the not-too-distant future.
“Internationalisation is also a goal and lifeblood for us,” he adds.
Robust solution in real time
The selling points are abundant. “Collo differs from the traditional methods. You used to have to take a sample of the liquid with a scoop, take the sample to a laboratory and wait two days to find out what the liquid was two days ago. We get the results immediately,” tells Sillanpää.
He points out that because most of the comparable solutions in industrial use today are optical, they cannot be used to analyse suspended solids such as the ceramic mixtures used to make sanitary ware.
“Our solution is also rather robust,” adds Järveläinen. “You can immerse it into a paint container and it won’t be the least bit bothered if the sensor gets dirty. It’s also durable and needs no maintenance.”
It is therefore no surprise that interest in the patent-pending technology is booming.
“We’re generating sales even though we don’t have a dedicated salesperson and even though we’re still in the prototype stage. That’s an indication of how much demand there is for Collo,” says Järveläinen.
*Known as the Tampere University since 2019