How do you really know that the food or medicine you’re about to ingest is what the package label says it is? With the LinkSquare from Stratio, you can actually run a test to get confirmation.

Stratio is unveiling its new LinkSquare infrared scanner for food, pharmaceuticals, materials, and physical objects at the 2016 International CES (the big tech trade show that will take place in Las Vegas next week). The San Jose, Calif.-based company says that its product will allow consumers to receive instant, reliable information about an object’s composition, right on their smartphone.

Stratio is unveiling the product amid increasing fears arising from food and drug scandals in the U.S. Consumers are concerned about product authenticity, and those fears may not be groundless. A 2013 report, for example, revealed that more than 30 percent of fish sold at U.S. restaurants and grocery stores were mislabeled. On top of that, more than 40 percent of the drugs sold in the U.S., and 80 percent of the active ingredients within those drugs, are manufactured in unregulated plants overseas, and enter the U.S. with no inspection.

Jae Hyung Lee, CEO of Stratio.

Above: Jae Hyung Lee, CEO of Stratio.

Image Credit: Stratio

That raises questions about whether the food you’re eating is really as healthy as you imagine, and whether you are successfully avoiding harmful chemicals, allergens, and counterfeit supplements.

LinkSquare is a portable, versatile spectrometer that uses the same kind of spectroscopy astronomers use to decipher the composition of distant stars. Materials emit light of different frequencies, and a laser spectrograph can measure these frequencies, allowing the device can make a positive identification at the molecular level.

The device uses a germanium-based Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) image sensor to illuminate an object and capture its response to light. Each type of molecule vibrates in its own way, and these vibrations interact with light to create a unique “optical fingerprint.” The data is analyzed through algorithms within Stratio’s database to identify a product’s composition, and results are then sent to the user via smartphone. The technology has been used by large corporations and the military for decades. Stratio is making it accessible to ordinary people.

The company has competitors in the field, such as Consumer Physics’ Scio, but Stratio contends that its scanner is capable of capturing light from a broader spectrum, thus analyzing more data to provide a more accurate analysis.

I’ve seen the Scio development prototype working accurately in identifying pain-relief pills. Dror Sharon, CEO of Scio-maker Consumer Physics, said in an interview that his company is now shipping its handheld device for scanning materials. The $250 Scio device has its first third-party party app, Diet Sensor, for scanning food.

“We haven’t seen any of the others in the market yet,” Sharon said. “It’s still an open field. But there is a big difference from making one unit, making a thousand, or making a million.”

Like competitors’ devices, LinkSquare can reportedly detect bogus drugs or mislabeled foods, and can also help consumers avoid mistakes such as confusing two medications which look similar to the naked eye. The device will be especially beneficial for people with dietary restrictions, and those who depend on a regular drug regimen. LinkSquare may also be used to verify whether other materials, such as leather, are genuine.

“Our eyes are the most important tool we have for evaluating the things around us, but looks alone can’t tell you everything. LinkSquare gives you important information you would miss otherwise,” said Jae Hyung Lee, CEO and cofounder of Stratio, in a statement.

Horizon Prizes recently offered a million euros to the inventors who can come up with the best scanner prototypes for analyzing food composition and nutritional facts and detecting potentially harmful ingredients.

LinkSquare is currently compatible with Android, and iOS support will be added in 2016. After CES, the company is planning a crowdfunding campaign in June 2016. The device is expected to be priced at $200.

Stratio was founded in 2013 by four Stanford University electrical engineering doctoral students. Lee recalls that he went out to celebrate a publication of a paper and bought some expensive whiskey.

“The very next day,” Lee said, “I read an article about a group of bars that were in trouble for switching out top-shelf alcohol for lower-end stuff. It made me wonder about the whiskey I had the night before – no one likes to get cheated.”

There are worse consequences than paying a lot of money for cheap whiskey.

“Our eyes are the most important tool we have for evaluating the things around us, but looks alone can’t tell you everything,” Lee said. “LinkSquare gives you important information you would miss otherwise.”

The company has been recognized in numerous startup competitions, including taking second place at the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students’ Start-up Challenge in 2013, winning grand prize at the Global Start-up Contest in South Korea in 2013, and receiving U.S. National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grants in 2014 and 2015.

Stratio has 12 employees. Investors include a major semiconductor company and the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research grant program. Stratio has also received funding from several incubators, including Start-up Chile and Alchemist Accelerator, as well as receiving research and development grants in South Korea.