Finnish tech could let smartphones "see" gas

The prototype sensor, attached to a phone(Credit: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland)

Smartphones are already able to monitor things such as light, sound, movement and geographical location. Soon, airborne gases could be added to that list. That’s because VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a miniature phone-compatible sensor, that uses light to identify the type and amount of gases in air samples.

The sensor is a scaled-down version of a Fabry-Pérot interferometer.

As such, it works by shining light of various wavelengths through an air sample. Different gases absorb those wavelengths at known rates, so by analyzing how much of what type of light is absorbed, it’s possible to ascertain if a given gas is present, and in what amount.

Among other things, it has been suggested that the device could be used to measure carbon dioxide concentrations. This could in turn be utilized to test the air quality in workplaces, or to assess peoples' sleep quality by measuring their exhalations.

While there’s no word on possible commercialization, VTT may be facing some competition when the time comes – Variable Technologies, Sensorcon, Homeland Security and the University of California, San Diego are also all working on smartphone gas sensors.

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