Israelis invent handheld spectrometer
SCiO allows users to find out the molecular breakdown of almost anything. (photo courtesy of Consumer Physics)
Consumer Physics, a technology startup based in Israel, was founded on the idea of empowering people to learn more about the physical world in which they live, according to the company’s chief executive officer, Dror Sharon.
A collaboration of two Technion electrical engineering graduates, Sharon and Consumer Physics chief technical officer Damian Goldring, the company has been honing in on coming up with “an affordable, handheld device that would allow people to explore the world around them and get a better sense of what things are made of,” said Sharon.
The business partners discovered that they could miniaturize a spectrometer (optical sensor) to scan material objects, much like the technology used to miniaturize optics for smartphone cameras.
After several years of research and development, this idea became Consumer Physics’ first product, dubbed “SCiO.” It can analyze a vast number of physical materials and provide information previously unavailable without large-scale laboratory equipment.
SCiO provides real-time molecular breakdowns, and can tell you anything from how much fat is in your latte to what the unmarked pill in your medicine cabinet is, and whether or not your plants need to be watered.
By miniaturizing the spectrometer to about the size of a USB flash drive, and using technology and products that are cost-efficient, Consumer Physics has made spectrometry both affordable and accessible.
SCiO includes a light source that illuminates the sample and a spectrometer that collects the light reflected from the sample. The spectrometer breaks down the light to its spectrum, which contains all the information required to detect the molecules in the sample.
SCiO communicates the information from the sample to a smartphone wirelessly, which then sends it out to a cloud-based service for review.
Creating a global database of possible materials that the scanner will encounter is one of the biggest challenges SCiO programmers face.
“Advanced algorithms rely on our updatable database of matter to analyze the spectrum and deliver information about the sample back to the user’s smartphone in real time,” said Sharon.
Considering the buzz their device has already spurred, Sharon said, “People are interested in SCiO to be able to learn more about their physical world in a way that, until now, they haven’t been able to.”
Some people have shown interest in specific applications, like being able to track the nutritional aspects of the food they eat, or being able to select the sweetest melon at the supermarket. Others, especially developers who supported Consumer Physics in its early stages, are excited about what future applications there might be for the company’s hardware.
“We’re working diligently to ensure we ship the products to our early supporters on schedule, and are currently growing our research and development team internally to support the demand for SCiO,” said Sharon. “Professional applications, like consumer applications, will vary, based on what the community of developers creates.”
Soon, SCiO will be available in Canada and around the world. “We were very pleased to see that our Kickstarter backers came from five continents, and will continue to support our global community,” said Sharon.
Right now, Canadians can pre-order SCiO for $249 from the company website (consumerphysics.com). Early Kickstarter supporters will receive their SCiOs in December 2014, while later purchases are expected to be shipped in March 2015.
“It’s safe and easy for kids to use, but they’ll need a smartphone to see the results,” said Sharon. “SCiO can teach children all about the world around them – from gardening to biology and nutrition – and we’re also looking forward to seeing what educational applications will be built for children.”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.