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Meet SCiO, the handheld scanner that IDs the molecules of food and pharmaceuticals

Jon Phillips | April 30, 2014
We can't hide from the cold calculus of science, especially when it comes to the food we stuff down our mouths.

In the future, Sharon envisions, the SCiO scanner could be used by home brewers to establish a beer's alcohol content; by consumers to suss out allergens in food and cosmetics; by shoppers to authenticate luxury goods like gemstones and leather; and by anyone who wants to identify an obscure plant species. He's not promising these use cases, mind you, but says they're all within the reach of spectroscopic technology, and could become reality with support from third-party developers.

A race to the spectroscopic finish line

If the SCiO story sounds somewhat familiar, it's probably because you've already heard of TellSpec, an extremely similar product that completed a successful Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign in November. Spectroscopic analysis is a nascent consumer technology, so there's certainly room for two players in the field. Still, Sharon was ready to point out what he believes are key difference between TellSpec and SCiO.

"The main differences are we have the full stack of a multi-disciplinary team, whereas I believe they still have to build out their hardware experience," Sharon says. "Second, we actually own the sensor; they use off-the-shelf. And third, they started off with a different type of spectroscopy and switched over, so I think it's going to take them some time to ship."

It's true that TellSpec started off with laser-based Raman spectroscopy (it's described in its Indiegogo campaign), and switched to a DLP-based sensor when it partnered with Texas Instruments in March. I didn't have a chance to contact TellSpec for comment in this article, but I hope to one day test the two competing sensors side-by-side. Ultimately, user experience might be more important than who ships first — assuming both products work as advertised and accurately identify real-world molecular structures.

Still, Sharon believes owning proprietary sensor tech plays in his company's favor. He says his team of engineers can continually iterate its patented technology, creating smaller and smaller sensors for a new range of devices. "Our vision is to have this inside every smartphone, every wearable device, and every Internet-connected device — everywhere it makes sense for you to measure a physical property," he says.


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