Consumer Physics, SCiO's creators, promise a Star Trek-like experience with the device. Users can point the Zippo-sized scanner at an avocado, for example, and find out how ripe the fruit is without touching or peeling it.
SCiO could be used to analyze a plate of food to determine its caloric and fat content, making meal tracking easier. It might also help users ensure their medication is authentic, or check soil conditions and alert gardeners that their plants aren't receiving enough water.
"Imagine if there was a way to know the chemical makeup of everything you come in contact with," Consumer Physics cofounder Damian Goldring said in a promotional video for the gadget. "The applications are endless."
SCiO connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth Low Energy and works in tandem with a custom companion application. SCiO sends its raw data to the cloud for analysis, and the results are returned to the users' handset.
SCiO takes its readings using a method called near-infrared spectroscopy, in which light reflected from an object is analyzed by a sensor known as a spectrometer. Since different molecules interact with light in unique ways, the spectrometer can determine which molecules were responsible for the light signature that it sees.
Handheld spectrometers that operate on this method already exist, but they are generally large, bulky items that can cost thousands of dollars. Consumer Physics says they used low-cost optics and advanced algorithms to make SCiO smaller and significantly lower its price compared to other NIR spectrometers.
The technology behind SCiO is similar to an approach Apple has been rumored to be studying for its so-called "iWatch." Apple, however, is though to be focused on health benefits -- such as noninvasive blood oxygen and glucose monitoring -- rather than general-purpose spectroscopy.
At press time, SCiO has raised $780,000 -- nearly four times its initial $200,000 goal -- with 41 days remaining in its Kickstarter campaign.