This Tiny Pocket Scanner Tells What Your Food Is Made Of in One Zap

The SCiO device uses the molecular footprint of an object to tell you its chemical makeup.
May 7, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Patricia Dao is a regular contributor to TakePart. She is a Los Angeles–based serial tech entrepreneur and managing director of the nonprofit Girls in Tech–LA.

Have you ever tapped on dozens of watermelons at the grocery store to find the sweetest out of the bunch—only to get one home and find out it’s a sour dud? Well, in less than a year, you’ll be able to tell which melon to buy, thanks to a USB drive–size pocket device.

Israel-based company Consumer Physics recently announced a Kickstarter campaign for a pocket molecular sensor called SCiO. The tiny device will have the ability to scan the molecular fingerprint of physical matter, such as food, medicine, and plants, and identify its chemical makeup. Think of it as portable x-ray vision that can see beyond the surface of an object and identify the good, the bad, and the ugly lurking inside.

Cofounder and CEO Dror Sharon showed me how the device works by scanning a piece of cheese. Within seconds, through the SCiO smartphone food app (and with no manual entering of information), the type of food and nutritional scores appeared. He then showed me the nutritional facts on the actual packaging of the cheese, which matched the scores the SCiO picked up through scanning.

If you wave it over your watermelon, in seconds the ripeness and produce quality, as well as the calorie, fat, carbohydrate, and protein breakdown, are delivered to the app.

"Smartphones give us instant answers to questions like where to have dinner, what movie to see, and how to get from point A to point B. But when it comes to learning about what we interact with on a daily basis, we're left in the dark," says Sharon.

Many consumers go out to restaurants and want to know if the dressing, sauces, and other ingredients of foods on the menu are high in fat or sugar, he says. In many cases, consumers have no choice but to push certain items to the side because they don't know their contents and feel torn about what they can eat. The mystery of what is in our food is one of many problems SCiO is aiming to solve.

Although the near-infrared spectroscopy the SCiO uses is a proved technology, it's usually expensive and isn't often constructed in a way that can be used by everyday consumers at an affordable price. The device's inventors have worked for several years to create an affordable spectrometer that collects the one-of-a-kind optical signature that vibrating molecules give off.

Consumer Physics' founders tapped the Kickstarter community to help fund the development of SCiO. Within 20 hours of launching the campaign, SCiO reached its pledge goal of $200,000. As of today, more than 5,000 backers have donated more than $1 million. The Kickstarter campaign ends June 14—a stretch goal of $2 million has been set. The company plans to ship its first batch of SCiOs to early backers by December 2014.

The applications for the technology are endless. Scan your medication to authenticate ingredients. Check the well-being of your herb garden's soil. You can even scan yourself to make sure you are properly hydrated. The device makes the idea of one day scanning your body and giving yourself an annual checkup seem not so far-fetched.