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New Smartphone Can 'See' Inside Objects

Forbes logo Forbes 12-01-2017 Paul Monckton, Contributor

A new smartphone is able to scan not only the appearance but also the chemical composition of objects around it. 

Manufactured by Chinese company Changhong, the “H2” is fitted with a dedicated molecular sensor which can discover, without physical contact, information such as the sugar content of fruit, the active ingredients in medicines or the contents of a drink.

The phone’s sensor component is a newly miniaturised version of the SCiO , a handheld molecular scanning gadget developed in 2014 by Tel Aviv company Consumer Physics, which uses Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) to scan objects and liquids, revealing their chemical composition through cloud-based computational analysis of the resulting data.

Put simply, you can point the device at just about anything and discover information about its chemical composition by viewing the results displayed on a companion smartphone app.

Now with the Changhong H2, you can now perform the same scanning tasks without the separate external SCiO device, by scanning objects directly with your smartphone.

NIRS is used in medical diagnostics and pharmaceutical quality control, but industrial-strength scanners start at around $10,000 for an entry-level model. The SCiO device in the H2 provides what appear to be ‘consumer level’ versions of these applications.

SCiO usage examples include pointing the scanner at your arm to measure the percentage of body fat or scanning pills to find out what active ingredients they contain.

In the sample video above, a user is shown scanning a pill which is then automatically identified by the device as Ibuprofen.

Another proposed use is in the scanning of foods and produce. The nutrient content and flavour of fruit and vegetables are commonly measured against the Brix scale, which denotes the sugar content as a percentage of total mass. The SCiO claims to be able to measure the Brix level for fruit and vegetables at a distance without you having to pick them up and examine them.

It’s also worth noting that the same demo screen shows the disclaimer “Results may not be 100% accurate”. Of course nothing is “100% accurate”, but it does put a rather large question mark over just how accurate and therefore useful the SCiO’s results may turn out to be, especially if users are going to trust the device to correctly identify prescription medications or warn them of any allergens which may be present in their food.

The lofty claims made of the SCiO will certainly need to be backed up by some rigorous testing and, I suspect, some far-reaching disclaimers. With the first devices now reaching users, we are soon to find out.

For many, the SCiO may prove to be no more than a fun gadget with rather limited use but could find a devoted audience in the burgeoning fitness and health sectors as well as popular health apps.

The phone will only be going on sale in China for now, but if you’re interested in the SCiO, you can buy the stand-alone version for $299 which works in conjunction with your existing smartphone.

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