Washington, November 29 (ANI): If scientists have their way, then smartphones like the iPhone may double up as chemical sensors that can transmit alerts to first responders about the release of dangerous chemicals.
According to a report in Live Science, a NASA scientist has unveiled a postage-stamp-sized sensor that can plug into an iPhone and convert Apple's beloved product into a mobile chemical detector.
The tiny device can sniff out low amounts of ammonia, chlorine gas and methane, and send alerts to other phones or computers over regular phone networks or a Wi-Fi connection.
"Ours is the smallest in the world that can do complete sensing work," said Jing Li, a physical scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.
Her prior work gave the device a strong NASA pedigree that includes air quality sensors tested on the International Space Station.
Li and other researchers developed the proof of concept for the Department of Homeland Security's Cell-All program.
Homeland Security hopes to eventually see such sensing chips embedded in everybody's cell phone, so that the mobile devices could form a huge chemical-alert network wherever people go.
The new silicon-based sensing chip contains 64 nanosensors that combine compactness, low-cost, low-power and high-speed.
Li's group created a power-sipping sensing chip that consumed just 5 milliwatts, or 40 milliwatts when combined with a sampling jet to help pick up chemical traces.
By comparison, an iPhone 3G charger might draw about 2 watts, or 2,000 milliwatts.
The research team estimated that an iPhone battery can last for more than 100 hours while running the sensing chip continuously, without the sampling jet.
Having continuous use with the sampling jet cuts the battery endurance down to around 20 hours - but Li pointed out that the sensing chip would probably run with only a time interval, such as every 5 or 10 minutes for a 1 or 2 minute operation, based on the user's desire.
Li's group plans create a slicker sensor that can display the data right on the iPhone, because a computer is currently required to do all the data decoding.
The researchers want to not only identify chemicals by name, but also detect chemical concentration, humidity and temperature.
They even plan on the data including pinpoint locations of the chemical events, courtesy of GPS on the iPhone. (ANI)