Cell phone sensor aims to crowd source chemical attack information

NASA scientists have developed a new chemical sensor that allows iPhones to identify low airborne concentrations of chemicals including ammonia, chlorine gas and methane.

The postage-stamp sized chemical sensor was developed by Jing Li, a Physical Scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California. The project was developed with other researchers as part of Homeland Security's Cell-All program, which was created to put more mobile sensors in the hands of every cell phone user.

The sensor works by using a puff from a sample jet that helps sense any airborne chemicals. Information from the sensor is then processed by a silicon chip with 16nano-sensors and then sent to another phone or computer through any Wi-Fi or telecom network.

The sensor, it is hoped, could be used to alert first responders to the presence of a chemical agent stemming from an accident or attack. The device would work even if the cell phone user loses consciousness from the chemical's presence.

The Department of Homeland Security's program aims to integrate isotope and biological GPS-coupled-sensors into cell phones to monitor chemical, biological or radiological environmental conditions and report incidents as they occur. The proposed Cell-All sensors would not only alert the phone's user to the presence of chemicals but, through crowd sourcing, transmit information about the chemicals to first responders and federal emergency operations center.