Chemical Scanner Could Change Shopping

TEL AVIV (AP) -
A pocket-sized scanner called SCiO seen at the Consumer Physics laboratory near Tel Aviv. The device can identify the molecular structure of a substance by shining an infrared light on an object and reading its chemical makeup.  (AP Photo/Jon Gerberg)
A pocket-sized scanner called SCiO seen at the Consumer Physics laboratory near Tel Aviv. The device can identify the molecular structure of a substance by shining an infrared light on an object and reading its chemical makeup. (AP Photo/Jon Gerberg)

An Israeli inventor has created a scanner that he says could change the way we shop and take care of ourselves — by reading the chemical makeup of foods, drugs and other items we use.

The tiny gadget is still limited to a few key applications. But creator Dror Sharon envisions a machine that will compile a massive collection of data that will allow users to analyze the physical matter that exists around them.

“We wanted to find applications where people have the most visceral connection to the world,” said Sharon, CEO and co-founder of Consumer Physics.

His gadget, called the SCiO, is an infrared spectrometer the size of a thumb drive. It is being marketed for three applications — food, pharmaceuticals and horticulture, or the health of plants. Simply by pointing and clicking a miniature digital wand, users can see how many calories are in a piece of cheese or determine when a tomato will reach peak ripeness.

Its name evokes the Latin verb meaning “to know.”

These features may seem more fun than life-changing at this point. But ultimately, advocates say, the SCiO could have life-saving uses, such as identifying contaminated foods or determining whether a drug is counterfeit.

“Immediately, the major impact will be increasing the awareness of people to the material world around them, which is already an enormous effect,” said Sanford Ruhman, a professor of chemistry and expert on spectroscopy at Hebrew University.

Ruhman, who is not involved with SCiO, said that while the technology has been growing smaller and smaller for decades, the SCiO represents a significant new step. It is believed to be the first device of its kind.

Ruhman suggested that in the future the ability to detect chemicals could be very beneficial in fields such as health and security. “It is just the beginning of something that can become much larger,” he said.

You can just point the gadget at an item — without even necessarily knowing what it is.

The device reads the item’s molecular structure, matches the information to an ever-expanding database and then can send additional data to your mobile phone.

“I think it will change the world in many ways,” said Sharon. He said the device could potentially be used for monitoring car tires, fuel tanks, soil analysis and the human body.

Sharon expects the gadget to hit the consumer market “sometime in the next year,” with a price tag of $299.