But does the concept work?
Theoretically, very much so. It is based on the fact that each type of molecule in existence vibrates differently. These vibrations interact with light, creating an optical signature which is unique to each type of molecule. In some ways similar to a pulse oximeter, the device has both a light emitter and a light sensor. The sensor collects the light reflected back from the object and the device then breaks it down into its spectrum (similar to fourier analysis of reflected ultrasound waves). It is through analysis of this light spectrum that the composition of the target object can be assessed with current technology with high accuracy.
Current technology is, however, several times larger, heavier, and more expensive (thousands of pounds) than the palm-sized devices being promoted by these 'viral' videos online. Can such a tiny and comparitively cheap (with RRP advertised at around £160) device really achieve the same results?
Dr Oliver Jones (whose comments were reported by Michelle Starr for Cnet) thinks not, noting that the majority of information the device would draw upon is freely available on the web, and the fact that the device still requires significant input from the operator. For example, ethanol and water provide similar readings on the infrared spectrum, but by requiring the operator to tell the device what type of substance it is scanning, the device can then correctly identify the substance as an alcoholic beverage.
The most popular video in circulation is by an Israeli company called Scio. However, there are, in fact, a number of companies offering a similar product – and crucially, all facing similar barriers to actually coming to market.
After all, this technology has been available to industry for decades. Whilst a number of companies (others include TellSpec and GoBe) have secured funding through ‘crowd funding’ initiatives to miniaturise this technology and make it cost-effective and accessible to the end user, none have yet managed to permeate patent law in order to actually bring the concept to market.
The availability of such devices at some point in the future seems inevitable, but we wouldn't recommend putting your money down on one just yet. Many of these companies encourage people to put a deposit or pre-order now on their websites, with "limited quantities available," yet - as a testiment to just how long this concept has been treading water - with delivery promised mid-2014.
If these neglected websites are anything to go by, this Star Trekesque technology may just be a few more years away. In the meantime, if you're on a low or no added sugar diet, why not try this completely natural chocolate alternative? 100% organic, and without the GI spike.