Thanks to nutritional labels on packaging, most store-bought foods give you a breakdown of their contents: fat, sugar, calories, and so on.
But what about that watermelon in the produce aisle? The cheese Danish at Starbucks? That glass of pinot noir you’re drinking?
A new handheld gadget called SCiO takes the guesswork out of analyzing your food. The device, about the size of a cigarette lighter, can be used to scan almost any food or beverage, analyze its chemical makeup and send the data wirelessly to your phone.
“The first application (of SCiO) is for consumers interested to know the nutritional value of what they’re eating,” said Dror Sharon, CEO of Consumer Physics, the Israeli company behind the device. “I often meet people who don’t know what’s in cheese, fruit and vegetables and have a hard time discerning what they should eat.”
SCiO contains a tiny optical sensor, called a spectrometer, which reads the molecular fingerprint of an object by shining an infrared light on it. The gadget then sends the data to the cloud for analysis and forwards the results to your phone, all in seconds. An accompanying SCiO app displays fat, protein and carbohydrate levels down to the milligram.
The underlying technology has been used for decades by corporations in quality control of oil and chemicals, although SCiO is being pitched as the first portable spectrometer for consumers.
The sensor can only detect materials and objects that were previously uploaded to its database. But it’s a smart device — the more items you scan with it, the more it learns to recognize items and their ingredients.
SCiO was a sensation this spring on Kickstarter, where its creators asked for $200,000 and reached their goal within 24 hours. They eventually raised more than $2.7 million, and have promised to deliver the first SCiOs, for $149 apiece, to early backers by the end of the year.
Sharon acknowledges the device still has some flaws. It’s not yet effective at identifying allergens, gluten or lactose. And its sensor is less accurate when it has to scan through glass, plastic or other packaging.
But the pocket sensor has more applications than just demystifying food. It can identify an unknown medication or check on the health of houseplants. And although its makers are quick to say SCiO is not a medical device, it could even be used to perform a basic, non-invasive blood scan.
The first version of SCiO may be somewhat limited in what it can do. But as the device learns and improves — outside developers will likely want to create apps for it — its potential will only grow.