SCiO looks like a chunky old USB stick, but inside lies some of the most advanced material analysis technology available. SCiO is a compact specrometer that can analyze the chemical makeup of an object just by pointing at it.
The device uses near-infrared spectroscopy to analyze its target. near-infrared light penetrates a short distance into an object before reflecting back. Different molecules vibrate in different ways, and when the light reflects off different molecules it is changed in a measurable way. As the light returns to the spectrometer, it is scattered into the full spectrum by a prism or diffraction grating. A sensor then analyzes the light to determine what molecules it reflected off.
Although SCiO can analyze anything, the raw molecular data it puts out is of no use to most people. Therefore a team at Consumer Physics is scanning hundreds of objects and compiling a database. Once the device launches, users will be able to do the same. When an object not currently in the database is scanned, SCiO can request that the user provide information about it which can then be delivered to anyone who later scans a similar object.
Current applications for SCiO include analyzing the caloric and nutritional content of food, identifying perscription medication and determining the health of a plant or when a fruit will be ripe. The latter is already a proven application of near-infrared spectroscopy, which is commonly used in agricultural operations to determine the proper time for harvesting and the health of the crop.
"We wanted to find applications where people have the most visceral connection to the world," says Consumer Physics CEO Dror Sharon.
Sharon beleives SCiO could one day save lives by identifying contaminated food or counterfeit medication. It could even be used by police at a crime scene to perform a preliminary analysis of an unknown material. Although less accurate then a mass spectrometer, SCiO could be used to get actionable results immediately.
"I think it will change the world in many ways," says Sharon.
SCiO could also one day be used to analyze the integrity of a car tire or fuel tank, determine the nutrients present in a patch of soil, or even look inside the human body. Near-infrared spectroscopy is already used in the medical world to analyze blood flow to different parts of the brain without the need for surgery or larger, more expensive fMRI scanners.
SCiO may be mostly an amusement for now, allowing curious users to analyze different parts of the world they live in, but making this technology so easily portable could have an impact on a number of different fields. Only time will tell.