Expanding Technological Frontiers to an Everyday Level

Although modern technology already provides mankind with an almost limitless access to digital information, SCiO — a 2015 Israeli innovation that has become one of the highest-funded technological projects in Kickstarter history [1]— promises to expand mankind’s access to information to a physical dimension. Small and portable, SCiO is a handheld molecular sensor which can scan and analyze the molecular composition of any common material and provide a detailed breakdown of its chemical contents. Although a recent innovation, SCiO not only allows mankind to explore the chemical make-up of everyday objects, but also has the potential to serve as a stepping-stone to greater innovations in areas ranging from industry to healthcare.

SCiO technology is fundamentally similar to that of scanners in airport and border security checkpoints [2]. It is a device that emits near-infrared light which excites molecules in an object – some light waves are absorbed while others are reflected back to the device. SCiO then wirelessly sends the raw input to a central service, which calibrates the input and uses a vast library of optical signatures to identify the molecular composition of the scanned object. The results are then sent to a Bluetooth-capable smartphone in a matter of seconds. Although SCiO represent a major breakthrough in the field of spectroscopy, it is also not without limitations. For instance, it is only able to identify elements that compose more than 0.1% of the overall chemical makeup of a compound [3]. Furthermore, packaging and other obstacles can interfere with the sensor [3].

SCiO not only allows mankind to explore the chemical make-up of everyday objects, but also has the potential to serve as a stepping-stone to greater innovations in areas ranging from industry to healthcare.

Despite its limitations, SCiO’s promise lies in its downscaled size (compared to the usual checkpoint scanner), making the technology easily accessible to the masses. Currently, SCiO is capable of analyzing food, medicine and plants. For the dieter or the health-conscious eater, SCiO can provide a detailed breakdown of food contents, levels of macronutrients such as carbohydrates and proteins, number of calories, quality, ripeness and spoilage [4]. For those who intake medicine on a regular basis, SCiO can identify the content of a pill by cross-checking it with its medicinal database [2]. For a gardener, SCiO can provide information about a plant’s moisture level and indicate when it needs water [2]. Its innovation not only lies in its current functions, but also in its vast potential to perform more specialized tasks in fields involving cosmetics, fashion, soil, leather, plastics and even human tissue and fluids [4]. The creators of SCiO have developed a third-party Application Development Kit for developers to create new apps based on SCiO’s innovation [4]. Already, SCiO Kickstarter backers plan to expand into fields such as counterfeit detection in jewelry, drug detection at security checkpoints and biological measurements such as blood sugar or alcohol content. SCiO also promises industrial innovation. For instance, engineers in the beer-brewing industry have suggested that SCiO can be used to measure the quality of intermediate products, which can indicate when certain processing stages are complete [2].

From simple everyday uses such as guiding a dieter or gardener, to mass-scale industrial uses such as increasing the efficiency of pharmaceutical or petroleum production, SCiO has the potential to achieve technological breakthroughs in both research and industry. On a more personal level, SCiO’s construction of a practical database of matter promises to infuse everyday life with science and enrich mankind’s understanding of the complexity of the world around him.

References

[1] “SCiO: Your Sixth Sense. A Pocket Molecular Sensor For All !” Kickstarter. Accessed March 20, 2015. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/903107259/scio-your-sixth-sense-a-pocket-molecular-sensor-fo.

[2] Takahashi, Dean. “Scio: This Device Tells You the Chemical Makeup of Your Food, Drinks, and Pills.” Accessed March 18, 2015. http://venturebeat.com/2014/04/29/scio-handheld-sensor-can-decipher-the-chemical-makeup-of-food-pills-and-plants/.

[3] Monks, Kieron. “This ‘Star Trek’-Style Molecular Sensor Fits in Your Hand, Reads Your Food.” CNN. Accessed April 3, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/02/tech/innovation/molecular-sensor-fits-in-your-hand/index.html.

[4] Coxworth, Ben. “SCiO Is Made to Analyze … Everything.” Accessed March 18, 2015. http://www.gizmag.com/scio-pocket-molecular-sensor/31840/.

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