Next Generation Mobile Phones Detect Deadly Chemicals

By Peter Fowler at 11 Apr 2010

The US Department of Homeland security is developing a cheap sensor for mobile phones capable of detecting deadly chemicals.

Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate (S&T)'s says "Cell-All" will be able to protect people from toxic chemicals by equiping cell phones with a sensor capable of detecting deadly chemicals.

Cell-All's program manager Stephen Dennis says a chip costing less than a dollar is embedded in a cell phone and programmed to either alert the cell phone carrier to the presence of toxic chemicals in the air, and/or a central station that can monitor how many alerts in an area are being received.

"One might be a false positive. Hundreds might indicate the need for evacuation," he said.

Mr Dennis said the goal is to create a "lightweight, cost-effective, power-efficient solution."

He says just as antivirus software bides its time in the background and springs to life when it spies suspicious activity, so Cell-All would regularly sniff the surrounding air for certain volatile chemical compounds.

When a threat is sensed, an alert ensues in one of two ways. For personal safety issues such as a chlorine gas leak, a warning is sounded; the user can choose a vibration, noise, text message or phone call.

For catastrophes such as a sarin gas attack, details, including time, location and the compound, are phoned home to an emergency operations center. While the first warning is beamed to individuals, the second warning works best with crowds.

"And that's where the genius of Cell-All lies—in crowd sourcing human safety," said Mr Dennis.

Currently, if a person suspects that something is amiss, he might dial 9-1-1, though behavioral science tells us that it's easier to do nothing. And, as is often the case when someone phones in an emergency, the caller may be difficult to understand, diminishing the quality of information that's relayed to first responders.

An even worse scenario: the person may not even be aware of the danger, like the South Carolina woman who last year drove into a colorless, odorless, and poisonous ammonia cloud.

"In contrast, anywhere a chemical threat breaks out such as a mall, a bus, subway or office then Cell-All will alert the authorities automatically. Detection, identification, and notification all take place in less than 60 seconds.

"Because the data are delivered digitally, Cell-All reduces the chance of human error. And by activating alerts from many people at once, Cell-All cleverly avoids the long-standing problem of false positives. The end result: emergency responders can get to the scene sooner and cover a larger area—essentially anywhere people are, casting a wider net than stationary sensors can," Mr Dennis said.

(C) NewsRoom America 2010

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