This Keychain Dongle Can Analyze Almost Any Physical Object Instantly

SciO might not have the most airtight use case, but I’m sure we’ll think of something.

Any nerd can appreciate the appeal of the “tricorder” device made famous by Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and other characters from Star Trek. Point it at pretty much any physical object, press a button, and presto–a wealth of detailed information magically appears on the device’s screen. A Kickstarter-funded product called SciO promises to be, if not a true tricorder, at least the next best thing. It’s a USB drive-sized dongle that can scan most objects and instantly return a “readout” of their chemical properties on your smartphone screen.


Dror Sharon of Consumer Physics, the company behind SciO, tells Co.Design that they dreamed up the device out mostly of “technological curiosity”–that is they wanted to see if it was possible to “mak[e] a spectrometer so small and cheap it could become a consumer product.” That’s what SciO is: a tiny spectrometer, which bounces infrared light off of an object and then analyzes it.

A ton of technical information about matter’s chemical properties can be obtained this way. SciO’s cloud servers crunch this data and a mobile app displays it in human-readable terms. “How much fat is in this salad dressing I just got served? Is this medication authentic? Which watermelon is going to be sweeter?” Sharon explains. “There is a big gap between the tremendous access to knowledge we have through various technologies and how clueless we are about the everyday stuff we encounter all the time.”

If SciO sounds like “Wikipedia for random stuff you can scan,” you’re pretty much right. If you’re the kind of person who’s curious about the geeky trivia that SciO generates, you’re probably one of its 10,000 Kickstarter backers who have pledged over $2 million to make the product a reality. Sharon hopes that developers will create “significant and serious applications” in health care or fraud detection for SciO’s platform. But he also acknowledges that “just because” is a totally legitimate use case. “We don’t dismiss applications that simply inspire curiosity,” he says. “After all, not every Google search is about solving the world’s problems.”

Augmenting everyday curiosity might actually be SciO’s killer app. Imagine an elementary school field trip where every kid gets handed a SciO to play with–the potential for enabling exploratory education is immense. “As human beings, we ask questions. We want to know more,” Sharon says. “And the truth is that the more we know, the more we want to know. We believe SCiO is, like the search engine, another tool that will act as a catalyst for our quest for knowledge.”

[Check out SciO’s Kickstarter campaign]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.