New smartphone revealed with counterfeit scanner

A smartphone can now tell whether your drugs are the real deal.

At this year's consumer technology CES conference in Las Vegas, USA, a new smartphone was revealed, equipped with a miniaturised near-infrared spectrometer sensor on the back, which can analyse molecular properties to determine a product's chemical composition.

Developed by China's Changhong in partnership with tech firm Consumer Physics, the H2 phone has the ability to detect fake pills, tell if fruit is past its best or which is the sweetest pick, measure body fat, determine the blood sugar impact of foods, and detect alcohol in drink.

"It brings the power of laboratory science to the everyday," Consumer Physics said in a promotional video.

The sensor – a SCiO material sensing technology or Scientific Consciousness Interface Operations System developed by Consumer Physics – works by beaming infrared light at an object, which reflects it back at different wavelengths determined by the product's chemical makeup. This information is then uploaded to a cloud database for analysis through a variety of apps.

A demonstration at CES showed how the device could be used to differentiate between erectile dysfunction drug Viagra and an imitation pill. By holding the phone sensor next to each pill to scan them, the device indicated that the fake tablet had unrecognisable properties while the genuine pill had its composition linked to known medications. A message on the screen said: "Verified. Looks like Viagra, Tarim, Revatio and other pills containing sildenafil."

"This is spectrometry," Hagai Heshes of Consumer Physics told "You have very big machines in labs. But what we were able to do is miniaturise and put them in phones. What is does is it emits a light and gets back a reflection. The reflection has a certain spectrum – every material has a different spectrum. We send it to the cloud and analyse that spectrum that was reflected from the material."

Beyond fake drugs, the phone and sensor would also be useful in other areas of counterfeiting to verify authenticity such as food, beverages and jewellery.

"What we're doing to spectrometry is what mobile phones did to computing power," Yaron Dycian, VP at Consumer Physics, said.

However, some tech experts have questioned the accuracy of the device, which appeared to have some consistency issues during demonstrations, although others suggest the feature could move mainstream to other phone brands.

Consumer Physics has already produced SCiO, a standalone, pocket-sized molecular-sensing device, which was launched in 2014 following a Kickstarter campaign. The device can pair with other Apple and Android smartphones via an app, although the H2 phone miniaturises and integrates the device into the phone.

The Changhong H2 will be available in China in the first half of 2017 and in the US after June.

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