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Will a new chemical scanner revolutionize shopping?

"It is just the beginning of something that can become much larger," Sanford Ruhman said.
By Brooks Hays   |   July 3, 2014 at 10:49 AM   |   Comments

TEL AVIV, Israel, July 3 (UPI) -- Want to know what strange chemicals are in your Subway sub roll? Soon, consumers won't necessarily need to rely on investigative journalists or public safety advocates to find out that there's yoga mat plastic in their sandwich. They can just use the SCiO.

The SCiO is the soon to be released chemical scanner from Consumer Physics, a startup based in Tel Aviv, Israel. The product's inventor thinks it will change the way consumers shop and eat.

The scanner is essentially a spectrometer. Point and click the tiny laser at an object, and SCiO can analyze its chemical makeup. The company developed the tiny tool for three main applications -- food, pharmaceuticals and horticulture.

But the spectrometer, which is the size of a thumb drive, won't just find plastics in your hoagie. It will tell users how many calories are in a chunk of cheese or advise a backyard gardner on whether a tomato has reached its peak ripeness.

After scanning the chosen object with a small laser, SCiO transmits its reading to an app downloaded on the user's mobile device. The app verifies the findings via a cloud-based service and returns the detailed information (calories, carbs, sugars, etc.) in real-time.

"We wanted to find applications where people have the most visceral connection to the world," said SCiO creator Dror Sharon, speaking of the decision to focus on food.

Consumer Physics has been able to develop the groundbreaking product with help from Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site that helped them raise more than $2 million.

"Immediately, the major impact will be increasing the awareness of people to the material world around them, which is already an enormous effect," explained Sanford Ruhman, a spectroscopy expert and professor of chemistry at Israel's Hebrew University.

But the inventors have high hopes for the SCiO's impact. "It is just the beginning of something that can become much larger," Ruhman said.

The scanner could also help consumers recognize counterfeit medicine or locate contaminated foods. It could have health and security applications, too. Currently, it's limited by the relatively small size of its database, but the company is recruiting a wide range of developers to expand its knowledge bank.

Eventually, the scanner won't just monitor apples and tomatoes, but car tires, fuel tanks, soil analysis and the human body. Consumers won't actually be able to scan anything until next year. The $250 device doesn't ship until March 2015.

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