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Consumer Physics Begins Shipping SCiO Pocket Molecular Sensors

The pocket device is designed to help consumers better understand the products they buy, the foods they eat or the medicines they take.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 21, 2015

Consumer Physics, an Israeli startup, is preparing to ship its SCiO pocket molecular sensor to the first of its 13,000 Kickstarter backers. That campaign, which took place a year ago, raised $2.7 million (1,381 percent of its goal).

The SCiO is a handheld near infrared (NIR) spectrometer, which, paired with a smartphone application leveraging a cloud-based database, is designed to enable consumers to better understand the contents of foods and other products they buy.

The sensor can be used to analyze anything (in this case, a plant's leaves) and determine its molecular makeup.
Scientists rely on NIR spectrometers to analyze any physical object—a seashell, a cell, a potato chip or a piece of plastic, for instance. Spectrometers collect light reflected off the molecules comprising an object's surface and convert this into a spectrum. All molecules vibrate in a unique pattern, and the spectrum shows how the reflected light interacts with those molecules. Spectrometers, therefore, create a molecular fingerprint of the material being analyzed, which scientists can then use to determine an object's chemical makeup.

Conventional spectrometers are very large and expensive, and not something a consumer could utilize. However, Consumer Physics' founders felt that a pocket NIR spectrometer could be very handy for consumers, since it would let them do things such as authenticate the contents of the pills they take (or make sure they're taking the right ones), or check the sugar or fat contents of foods they eat, or the ripeness of fresh foods they select at a grocery store.

Consumer Physics is beginning to ship software development kits (SDKs) to the researchers, coders and scientists who backed the project. Each SDK includes one SCiO scanner, one SCiO case (which holds the scanner) and a mini-USB charging cable, as well as access to the SCiO SDK software, which is available both as a smartphone app and as a browser-based Web app. The expectation is that these early backers will use the device to scan materials in order to collect raw data regarding their molecular fingerprints, and then create database entries describing these materials and attributes. If they are able to collect enough database entries about materials that have something in common (fruits or plastics, for example), they could create apps specific to those groups.

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