Sources are unsure whether the molecular scanner will be able to scan and recognize materials as detailed in the crowdfunding campaign. Guess we will have to wait and see
In what was one of the most explosive Kickstarter campaigns ever, the SCiO is set to finish its crowdfunding project Sunday evening raising more than $2.7 million, or 1,300% of its $200,000 goal.
The hand size molecular scanner that allegedly can analyze foods, plants or any other material, reached its goal in just one day and saw at least nine investors pledge $10,000. It seems no surprise that the project was met with such enthusiasm, as it promises to be a “sixth sense” that can scan the chemical makeup of anything. However, we aren’t so sure the product is all it is cracked up to be.
“I think this is an example of a company focused on packaging and marketing as opposed to science,” said one spectroscopist Geektime spoke to.
A pocket size scanner
The product is a tiny spectrometer that sends information directly to a smartphone. According to the campaign, some of the things SCiO can do are give nutritional facts about foods, tell how ripe an avocado is or how juicy is a watermelon, find out the quality of cooking oil, know the wellbeing of plants, and authenticate medications or supplements. Users can upload and tag any materials on earth to the database to grow the SCiO’s understanding of different chemical structures. In the future, the SCiO is supposed to be able to measure properties of cosmetics, clothes, flora, soil, jewels, stones, leather, rubber, oil, plastics and even pets and humans.
“In principle this can be done, and I believe they have a good idea,” said another industry expert. “In practice there is a big question about the accuracy. Spectroscopy for most of the materials in the world, specifically organic one, requires a broad spectral range in the infrared. They do not have this infrared capability in this small device.”
The expert continued: “There are companies that build special lasers in the infrared (called Quantum Cascade Lasers or QCLs) specifically for producing such measurements to cover a broad range of material identification. The QCLs require much more power than can be produced in this hand held device. So I think this device will give you the ‘color’ of most objects, but will be very limited in the type of materials – certainly the ‘infomercial’ is misleading a little.”
Promises vs. what we should expect
One of the things that seems to be glossed over in the campaign is that the device can only recognize things that have already be scanned and saved in the database. For example, if you were trying to find out if an avocado were ripe, you would have already had to have scanned a ripe avocado and programmed the software to know that is the genetic makeup of a ripe avocado. It may be likely that it would only know if another avocado was ripe if it was at the exact same stage of ripeness. For the device to recognize everyday materials, it would have to scan and program millions of things so that when something is scanned it could match it to something in the database.
Spectrometers are normally large and very expensive devices. While their prototype may have some of the capabilities advertised, it seems highly unlikely that the SCiO could have anywhere near the capabilities of other spectrometers once its price is reduced to just $199 and it is mass produced for consumers.
Yet all the same, $199 is not so much for a scientific ‘toy’ that may have some basic molecular scanning capabilities. The device was developed by Consumer Physics, a Tel Aviv company founded by Dror Sharon and Damian Goldring. The company already received a previous round of funding, but decided to raise money on Kickstarter as a way to bring the product to the market and interact with future users. Consumer Physics spent three years developing the low costs optics and advanced signal processing algorithms to create the SCiO. The Kickstarter campaign launched April 29 and on May 6 reached its first stretch goal of getting 4,000 backers, leading Consumer Physics to offer the device in an additional color to be determine by an online poll. The second stretch goal of reaching $2 million, was reached May 27 and led the team to lift its two year limit of free SCiO apps for its Kickstarter backers.
Investors asked Consumer Physics to release a third stretch goal, but the company said it decided to focus just on getting the product manufactured and shipped instead of adding more perks.
After such an explosive campaign, it will be interesting to see what happens when the device is delivered. Hopefully it will reach its release targets on time and we can see what it really does.