Handheld scanner can identify food ingredients

A small company is launching a handheld scanner that can tell fat molecules apart from sugar, and everything in between.
April 29, 2014 8:37:19 PM PDT
A small company is launching a handheld scanner that can tell fat molecules apart from sugar, and everything in between.

It's a technology that could have uses far beyond just counting calories. The gadget can match nutritional labels but it also works on foods with no label.

"It can tell you how ripe an apple is. It can tell you how sweet it is. It can tell you if it's spoiled or not," said Consumer Physics CEO Dror Sharon.

It's called SCiO, a handheld spectrometer. It shines near-infrared light and records what's reflected back. That signature can tell it what molecules something is made of.

"Spectroscopy has been used in labs for ages. They're just very large and bulky and very expensive to be accessible to consumers. We have reduced the cost and size of the device," said Sharon.

The company raising money on Kickstarter and the pledges are rolling in.

"For such early stage products, I've never really seen so much press attention. All eyes are on these devices, because they promise something very compelling," said Reuters Technology Correspondent Christina Farr.

She pointed to TellSpec, a similar device that promises to find allergens in foods.

"I'm pretty skeptical. The fact that we're seeing these devices try to raise money on crowd-funding sites suggests that traditional venture capitalists haven't really placed their faith in this category yet," said Farr.

But the applications go far beyond just scanning food. SCiO's markers envision a world where developers build apps to use the scanner in hospitals and even in people's own medicine cabinets.

SCiO can also tell what's in a pill, a pressing need in some countries.

"In the developing world, 50 percent of pharmaceuticals are fake in Africa, 30 percent in China," said Sharon.

At $150, seniors could use it at home as doctors look on.

"Make sure that patients actually take their drugs on time, that they're taking the right mix of medications," said Farr.

She said that could win investment from drug companies.

Eventually, SCiO wants to build a tiny sensor right into people's smartphones.