A new product on the market has the potential to revolutionize the way we buy food and could also have huge implications for the food industry.
The device, which was developed by a startup in Israel, is a miniature handheld scanner that can instantly determine the chemical composition of substances such as food, drinks or other items.
The technology involved is called Near Infrared Spectrometry. The device, which has been dubbed SCiO, uses an optical sensor to evaluate the chemical makeup of a substance. The device then sends the data to a user’s smartphone.
The co-founder of the company, Dror Sharon, says the device is “the first molecular sensor that fits in the palm of your hand.”
Many potential applications
The SCiO has many practical uses for the average person or consumer. For example, the device can tell the user whether a piece of fruit or a vegetable is ripe or not simply by sensing its sugar content.
The SCiO, on the market since last month, does not need physical contact with the substance being tested because it uses a beam of light in what is known as Near Infrared Spectroscopy.
Each molecule interacts with light to create a unique optical signature, which can reveal an object’s chemical properties, such as moisture, fat or sugar content.
The technology is not yet able to accurately evaluate more complex foods or substances – the example given is lasagna, which has too many ingredients for an accurate reading – but the company claims that the collaborative database it is developing will help to further develop the technology’s potential.
Even with its current limits, the SCiO could prove to have many uses beyond simply telling the user whether or not an apple is ripe enough to eat. The price is surprisingly reasonable.
The SCiO currently sells for $250. More than 13,000 customers have placed advance orders for the gizmo through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, which the startup successfully used to develop and launch the product.
Other potential uses for the SCiO include things like testing medicines, or finding out if “that jacket is really leather.”
Another very practical application that springs to mind would be to test food supplements to find out if they really contain the substances advertised on the label. In the wake of recent reports that a surprising percentage of supplements on the market contain very little, if any, of the active ingredients listed, this could be a very useful technology indeed.
It could also be used to determine if you are really buying beef and not horse meat or whether your take-out order of Kung Pao Chicken really contains chicken and not some other unlucky stray animal.
This technology is likely to become wildly popular, and it could force food manufacturers and others to clean up their act. Until now, there was almost no way to determine the purity or quality of many products sold on the marketplace. This device could prove to be a real game-changer.
Potential for illegal uses, but also for law enforcement
This technology might also become popular with black market drug dealers and consumers. If it can test the quality or purity of substances such as marijuana or cocaine, it will be very attractive to casual users and also buyers of drugs in bulk for distribution.
However, since the device apparently automatically transmits the results of scans to a collective database, drug dealers and users might want to exercise a bit of caution or at least find a way to hide the data from others.
On the other hand, the technology is also likely to prove to be a boon to law enforcement authorities as well. Having the ability to test substances instantly while on the scene could save time and money while also ensuring that no one gets arrested or detained for possessing something that looks like an illegal drug but is not.
Original Author: Daniel Barker