CO-Detecting Cell Phone
Three years down the road, it’s possible every cell phone sold in the U.S. could be part of an elaborate emergency detection system, thanks to a new program from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The Cell-All Initiative, spearheaded by the DHS Advance Research Products Agency, aims to build a network of tiny sensors in smartphones that would detect dangerous gases and chemicals and alert officials of pending risks.
“In its greatest manifestation, everyone would have it,” says Stephen Dennis, Cell-All’s program manager.
The concept is simple. Cell phones would continuously monitor for deadly chemicals, much the way home smoke detectors do. If a chemical were detected, it would send a signal to emergency officials. EMS responders would then know what they’re facing.
Cell phone makers are working with the DHS and expect to have a test phase in 18–20 months, says Dennis.
The sensors’ findings would be anonymous, so officials would get only a location and type of reading. Owners of the phones would also have to opt-in to activate the service.
The sensors are expected to be capable of reading four or five chemicals. It’s possible, Dennis says, that some phones could measure for one set of information, while others search for different ones, creating a wider net. All would search for carbon monoxide.
“In my mind, it will save lives in the first year just on carbon monoxide issues alone,” says Dennis. “Using this sensing out to the edge of the network, this would actually make that kind of safety ubiquitous.”