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SCiO is made to analyze ... everything

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April 29, 2014

The SCiO Pocket Molecular Sensor

The SCiO Pocket Molecular Sensor

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Wondering how nutritious that food is, if that plant needs water, or just what that misplaced pill is? Well, the makers of SCiO claim that their device is able to tell you all of those things, plus a lot more. To use it, you just scan the item in question for one or two seconds, then check the readout on a Bluetooth 4.0-linked smartphone.

SCiO is actually a miniature spectroscope. Like the bigger, more expensive laboratory-grade models it's based on, it works by shining near-infrared light on materials, exciting their molecules in the process. By analyzing the light that's reflected off those vibrating molecules, it's reportedly possible to identify them by their unique optical signature, and thus determine the chemical composition of the material.

In the case of SCiO, an accompanying iOS or Android app sends its readings to the cloud, where algorithms process the data in real time. The results should appear on the phone's screen within a matter of seconds.

According to Consumer Physics, the Tel Aviv-based company that's developing the device, it will initially come with apps that allow it to analyze food, plants and medication. As described in a press release:

"The food app delivers macro nutrient values (calories, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins), produce quality, ripeness, and spoilage analysis for various foods, including cheeses, fruits, vegetables, sauces, salad dressings, cooking oils, and more. SCiO can also identify and authenticate medication in real-time by cross-checking a pill's molecular makeup with a database of medications. Finally, SCiO can analyze moisture levels in plants and tell users when to water them."

The SciO food app

The company also plans on providing an Application Development Kit, so that third parties can create their own apps for use with SCiO. These apps could greatly expand the variety of materials that can be analyzed, as the designers claim that it should work on just about any material, "including cosmetics, clothes, flora, soil, jewels and precious stones, leather, rubber, oils, plastics, and even human tissue or bodily fluids."

SCiO is powered by an integrated battery, that should provide approximately one week of use per charge. It's compatible with iPhone 4S and up, iPad 3rd generation and later, and with devices using Android 4.3 and later. Consumer Physics is currently raising funds for its commercial production, through Kickstarter. A pledge of US$179 will get you one when and if they're ready to ship, this December.

The very similar TellSpec is also presently in development, although it's being marketed more as a food-specific device.

More information on SCiO is available in the pitch video below.

Sources: Consumer Physics, Kickstarter

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
20 Comments

Great-sounding device... I've been looking for a tricorder since Episode 1 of StarTrek.

There will be many, many uses for such a device, from medicines to materials.

Unfortunately, in the same way that people claim pornography 'drove' the internet's image and video content in the early years, I suspect that early-adopters will include those in the drug-distribution business, doing quality checks on high-value items at time of transaction.

Eventually I want someone to build one into a small multi-wheel all-terrain vehicle of less than 1m x 1m which crawls along one's paddocks and senses plant leaves, checks the database and then laser-zaps or glyphosate squirts just the weeds. It is not that much harder to do than an robotic vacuum cleaner, but has to know what it is 'cleaning up'.

Eventually, I can see such small-scale technology as allowing mini-traps in wild and semi-wild areas, which capture passing animals 24x7 and then checks their composition to discern the difference between native/protected species and invading/pest species and either let them leave unharmed, or zap them with a strong laser and drop them into a hatch for later emptying. Some introduced species (eg cane toads in Australia) are so abundant that ONLY automated 'smart' removal systems could possible control...

Graeme Harrison
29th April, 2014 @ 07:08 pm PDT

Herbal supplements have been said to be strife with potentially harmful other herbs and fillers.

When I look at vitamins and such online I always wonder if that is what I'm getting. Especially for stuff like racetams as every place that sells them looks fake to me but I'm paranoid too.

Does that tea have pesticides on it? Does that plastic have BPA in it? Does that water have fluoride in it?

Human health metrics? What can we tell by scanning our hair, skin, blood, spit, tears, ect?

Ben Tumaru O'Brien
29th April, 2014 @ 09:09 pm PDT

No mention of what depth the scan can penetrates.

There a bit in the video where a girl on a treadmill scans her drinking bottle. If that's not pure PR bull, then this might be able to penetrate certain liquids well enough.

The biggest use I would find is testing the quality of portable water and its additives.

Moving beyond that, catching fungal spores developing on food products would the the other desirable.

Re:Graeme Harrison

I would be happy if dealers provided the civic duty of scanning product quality prior to distribution.

A lot of ODs and permanent damage people receive from drugs stems from the impurities that are there mainly as filler.

Nairda
29th April, 2014 @ 09:44 pm PDT

Yes, a tricorder is finally reality; sort-of.

MarkmBha
30th April, 2014 @ 01:20 am PDT

Nairda,

They didn't state how far it penetrates, but they did state it uses near infrared, which is a known quantity. The penetration depth depends upon the material.

What I wonder about is that as described, the spectroscope emits near IR and then scans the result. Well, how wide a spectrum is included in near IR? Whatever is scanned would be limited to this spectrum plus whatever fluoresces from near IR. I think better results would likely be possible if the radiation included a wider spectrum. Why not visible and UV, for example?

Victor

Victor Engel
30th April, 2014 @ 08:51 am PDT

what about volatiles, biochemicals, pathogens. This would be really useful.

rik.warren
30th April, 2014 @ 10:23 am PDT

T-rays (terahertz wavelength) would be better at scanning deeper. I'm all in for this device tho. I can imagine phones being made with this capability built in a few years.

MK23666
30th April, 2014 @ 11:51 am PDT

Glyphosate??? I wonder if this device could show the level of stupidity in our supposed scientists, lol.

Abraham Kovler
30th April, 2014 @ 01:21 pm PDT

I could be wrong but this sounds way over-hyped to me. It could work with some organics but would be very limited. It would require a spectral scan that would have to be compared to known spectra. Pure materials would be doable but mixtures are very difficult and can be very complex. Then add on the fact that many materials range from transparent to totally opaque to infrared. This looks way too simple when compared with the sample preparation and FTIR equipment I used to use.

Bob
30th April, 2014 @ 02:54 pm PDT

I would be most interested in scanning food for contaminants. It doesn't seem to mention this but should be possible? A lot of our food is being imported from China which could be highly contaminated (just google it). I would love to point this thing at some Chinese "organic" food and see if it's as clean as claimed. I am thinking this device could detect all known pesticides and heavy metals, plus their concentration. Could you scan your dinner at a restaurant for salmonella or e-coli? etc. I could see this being integrated into a smartphone, hold your phone over an item and get a full readout on screen. Very cool.

Sean Ross
30th April, 2014 @ 03:18 pm PDT

Micro tricorder, awesome, for every smartphone, wow

Stephen N Russell
30th April, 2014 @ 03:35 pm PDT

I want one, ASAP.

Jeffrey Brooks
30th April, 2014 @ 07:02 pm PDT

Not a tricorder, more like Dr. McCoy's medical scanner.

Galane
30th April, 2014 @ 09:34 pm PDT

I don't know--sounds fake. If this device has already been shown to do all these amazing things, private investors, tech companies, and VC firms would fund its development.

I agree with Bob--the lab FTIR equipment requires sample prep to work. This device looks like the No!no! Hair Removal System, which doesn't work.

androv
30th April, 2014 @ 09:42 pm PDT

I can see environmental groups having a field day with this. They could check water from rivers and steams (especially downstream from factories) and report illegal levels of pollution to the EPA or other authorities, or just sue the polluters themselves. Maybe it will even work for air quality.

David Charles Leithauser
1st May, 2014 @ 12:46 pm PDT

Wow! Now I get to detect acetylene ripened fruits and avoid buying them.

I've been waiting for this and that watermelon sweetness detector on my phone!

xs400
2nd May, 2014 @ 03:39 am PDT

The first thing I would do with this is take the casing apart and stick the innards into my toy sonic screwdriver, bluetooth it to my smart watch, and start looking like the biggest, most effective geek in the world. Toy no more! Cool little light on top and everything.

You can keep your tricorders.

Ichabod Ebenezer
6th May, 2014 @ 10:20 am PDT

I really wish this thing was real...but most likely it's vaporware.

Ed
6th May, 2014 @ 11:36 am PDT

Anybody who has ever taken highshcool chemistry knows how this works...it's spectroscopy. Find out what wavelengths of light are absorbed by the material and then you will get a chemical breakdown of that chemicals are in the item you scanned. We did this 40 years ago in chemistry class using a spectrum, polarized glass and a flame burning different chemicals...This thing will *ONLY* be able to tell you whatever gets absorbed by the light they are using...that's how spectroscopy works.

Ed
6th May, 2014 @ 11:43 am PDT

If it can tell you which chemicals are in your ecstasy pills or cocaine or whatever drugs, this could make it MUCH safer for drug users everywhere. This is great, as long as it works!

Marc Stinebaugh
20th May, 2014 @ 07:21 pm PDT
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