The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security wants to enlist your smartphone -- on a voluntary basis -- in the war on terror.
The DHS is funding research into whether it is feasible to equip smartphones with sensors which would be able to detect volatile chemical compounds in subways, railroads, buses and malls.
The DHS Science and Technology Directorate is funding R & D into proof of principle -- i.e. would the idea work -- for what is being called Cell-All.
The idea is that a sensor in the phone would detect, identify and automatically notify authorities when a hazardous chemical is present. The sensors are said to be low-cost -- around $1 -- and wouldn't impinge too much on the phone's battery life.
The sensors, of course, would be able to detect terrorists' efforts to use hazardous chemicals as well as natural occurrences such as carbon monoxide and chemicals emitted in fires.
Users, who would opt in to the program, could be alerted to hazardous chemicals in the area via a noise, vibration, text message or phone call, and alerts also would be sent to emergency operations centers.
The DHS is working with Qualcomm, NASA and Rhevision Technology to miniaturize the product, to perfect the sensor on a low-power platform, and to fine-tune the porous silicon in the sensor so its output could be read spectrographically as the silicon would change colors when different molecules are present.
The DHS also hopes to enter into cooperative research agreements with cellphone manufacturers Qualcomm, LG, Apple and Samsung as a means to speed commercialization.
Bringing the product to market would take several years, but DHS hopes to have about 40 prototypes available for testing within about a year.
No word yet on the mobile-sniffers' applicability to detecting chemical threats in aircraft.
At the least, aviation authorities first would have to loosen restrictions on mile-high cellphone calls.