Last updated February 28th 2015
Before buying fruit at the greengrocer, steak at the butcher or a nutritional supplement at the pharmacy, imagine taking a gadget out of your pocket, aiming it at the item and instantly seeing its quality, ripeness and nutritional value, plus a whole lot more data hidden at the molecular level.
That is about to happen. Come July, the Israeli company Consumer Physics will start shipping preorders of its futuristic SCiO, the world’s first consumer-grade molecular sensor.
The sensor, a tiny spectrometer, allows you to get instant relevant information about the chemical make-up of just about everything around you, from foods to plants, medicines, diamonds and more, sent directly to your smartphone.
“In the last 10 years or so, we’ve all gotten used to having an instant ‘search button’ in our pocket that lets us know where we are on a map, book a table at a restaurant, listen to a song in a different language and buy it and translate it,” says Consumer Physics cofounder Dror Sharon, who describes his position as “CEO and Chief Happiness Officer.”
“The power in our pockets is phenomenal, but one piece is missing, and that’s information about the things in our physical world – everything from food to medicine to fuel. That’s the basic need we’re trying to answer.”
Is that a good avocado?
Sharon tells ISRAEL21c that Consumer Physics was founded in 2011 specifically for the purpose of bringing cutting-edge sensing technology to consumers. Before approaching investors, the team of engineers and scientists first wanted to prove to themselves that a pocket-sized molecular scanner would be viable technologically and from a consumer experience perspective.
They began with food, the most basic and ubiquitous part of daily life. Once they were convinced their hardware and related apps could provide the kind of information people currently cannot access but want to know, they sought and won funding from strategic investors, from Khosla Ventures in California and through the Jerusalem-based OurCrowd funding platform.
Portable storage innovator Dov Moran was Consumer Physics’ first angel investor. And last summer the company completed one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history, raising more than $2.7 million (starting with a goal of $200,000) from nearly 13,000 backers.
These early investors will get their SCiOs first.
The device, which costs $249, comes loaded with several apps divided into categories, such as dairy foods and pharmaceuticals. Other apps will be added according to need, and there’s a SCiO software development kit (SDK) available for $449; about 1,000 developers were among the Kickstarter investors.
Sharon believes the possibilities are endless. For example, the device could reveal the properties of the diamond you’re thinking of buying, or the calorie count of the Hollandaise sauce at your favorite French restaurant.
“We will supply apps that are going to tell you some useful information about your physical world, and we expect it to grow over time as we see how people use SCiO,” says Sharon.
Googling the physical world
“The SCiO molecular scanner will create the first database of matter allowing people to ‘google’ the physical world and understand more about the environment around them and what they are putting into their bodies,” says OurCrowd partner David Stark. “This has major implications for commerce, health and scientific research.”
Each SCiO is made of hundreds of tailor-made components sourced from several different countries. However, Consumer Physics didn’t try to reinvent any manufacturing processes, which would have slowed the path to commercialization of its core technology. The idea is to scale quickly to the level of smartphones — billions of units per year.
Sharon tells ISRAEL21c that other companies are attempting to make consumer molecular scanners, “but we have yet to see something comparable in size or cost. The efforts have accelerated since we showed there was an interest in a solution like this.”
He points out that they’re targeting a market that doesn’t exist yet, so it’s actually helpful for others to join in identifying potential users.
“Every time you use SCiO you will be helping to build a database of knowledge about the stuff around us,” says Sharon. “The bigger our community gets, the more data SCiO will have about different materials and this goes right back to our community of users.”
He predicts that within 10 years, people will take molecular scanning for granted to the same degree as they now take smartphone cameras for granted. “It’s cool to think about googling your physical world, but really it’s also a basic human need,” he says.
SCiO will be sold via Consumer Physics’ ecommerce platform worldwide – preorders are already arriving from customers in countries including Iraq and Afghanistan – and eventually will be sold in retail stores.
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