Do you ever browse the supermarket shelves and wonder what’s really in all those cans of food? How much pesticide is saturating those shiny green apples? What’s in those shampoos, soaps, creams and other toiletries that we put on our bodies? There is – naturally – an app for that.And the app in this case is used in conjunction with the SCiO, a small, handheld device that scans an object and communicates instant information about its chemical makeup to the app on your smartphone.SCiO – Latin for “to know” (the capital letters were used to make the name distinctive) and pronounced like “bio” – is essentially a miniature spectrometer.A standard spectrometer is a large and very expensive piece of machinery used in scientific laboratories to identify the properties and quantities present in an object.“Naturally, we’re not competing with these large machines,” says Dror Sharon, CEO and cofounder of ConsumerPhysics, the company that designed SCiO. “Our spectrometer is tiny and can be mass-produced at low cost for use by the consumer and business owner.”SCiO’s spectrometer, also known as an optic sensor, collects light reflected off the scanned object. The light is then broken down into a spectrum, which is sent to a database in the cloud for analysis.From there, the results are relayed to the app in your smartphone. Sophisticated algorithms account for changes in the product from the time it was last indexed so as to ensure the data integrity of the database. To demonstrate how the SCiO works, Sharon places a pill on the table and hands me the device. I scan the pill, which takes two seconds, and half a second later, an analysis of the pill’s composition is displayed on the phone through the app created for the product.“A person might want to scan his medication if he bought pills from, say, a Third World country and wants to make sure that he’s getting the real stuff,” explains Sharon.ConsumerPhysics has created a few starter applications that allow consumers to inform themselves about the nutritional components of different types of food, to identify the contents of capsules containing medication or nutritional supplements, and even to determine if their plants need watering.The company provides the consumer with a simple interface to develop apps to measure the properties of materials of their choice, such as cosmetics, soil, jewelry, leather, rubber, oils and plastics. In this way, says Sharon, “the database of knowledge about the stuff around us” is being continually enriched.“This interface is designed for non-experts who have no knowledge of programming,” he adds.Sharon’s focus, however, is more on small-business owners and professional developers who aim to build databases with rich and ever-expanding content.The company provides a software development kit that gives access to the SCiO web app, where samples can be scanned, data collections set up and apps that communicate with the SCiO sensor from an iOS or Android device are developed.“Initially, only developers will be able to upload data,” says Sharon. “This will allow us to keep tabs on the type of databases they are generating.” There are currently 1,500 registered developers from 120 countries all over the world. The basic consumer version is sold at a cost of $250. The developer’s kit costs $450.Sharon founded ConsumerPhysics in 2011 together with Damien Goldring, whom he met 20 years earlier when both were electrical engineering students at the Technion. They were both members of a military program that enables participants to study for a degree as part of their army service, and served together in the air force.Sharon, the more business oriented of the two, earned a degree in the United States and was involved in a number of local startups; Goldring’s forte is program management.“We’re a cloud-based service and the businesses that have asked us for help are at the forefront of what we call the industrial Internet of Things (IOT). We want to have sensors everywhere to measure everything,” Sharon says.“The next generation of sensors will be installed in a mobile phone,” he predicts.“I believe it’ll happen within the next five years, that instead of a handheld device, the sensor will be part of your phone.”According to Sharon, there will be 1.5 billion smartphones manufactured in 2016.“I call this the uber-connected super computer,” he says. “It’s always on, it’s always connected, and it’s high speed.We are close to being a zero information- gap society. But there is still the divide between the digital world and the physical world.”With the introduction of SCiO, Sharon believes the last gap in the zero-information- gap society will be bridged.For more information on SCiO, visit www.consumerphysics.com/myscio/.The writer has worked for over 20 years in hi-tech. If you have a question about any of the products featured in this column or have developed a product you’d like to share, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.