Stratio’s portable spectroscope can tell what kind of pill that is

To the untrained eye, most pills tend to look the same. Hell, even to the trained eye, differences can be slight. It’s a problem that Stratio — a company competing in TechCrunch’s Hardware Battlefield at CES 2017 — is trying to solve. They’ve built a portable device that can identify a pill in seconds.

Called the LinkSquare, the device uses an ultra sensitive sensor to detect a pill’s “optical fingerprint,” the unique but consistent way each pill reacts to light.

Using the LinkSquare is quite simple. You hold the device like you would a large pencil, its tip placed against the pill in question. Press “Scan” in the device’s companion iOS app, wait a few seconds, and bam: you’ve got your results.

But… why?

Stratio tells me that many pharmacies fill prescriptions in two steps: the assistants (or techs) find the pills required and put them in a pill bottle, and the pharmacist then comes through and verifies things as a sanity check. When things get busy, that second step becomes a bottleneck; pharmacies often only have one pharmacist on hand, and they’re often doing a dozen things at once. Something like this could help clear up that bottleneck while cutting back on human error.

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It could also be used to help identify counterfeit medications — for example, humanitarian organizations could use it in the field to ensure that an incoming shipment of, say, anti-malarial drugs contains the pills it’s supposed to.

Stratio expects the device to sell at a base price of around $250, with an additional set-up fee that varies depending on the size of the pill database the buyer wants access to. If they only need to authenticate a handful of pills, for example, it’d cost less than if they need to differentiate between thousands.

Founded in 2013 by four Stanford engineers, the company tells me it has raised over $5 million to date.