LAB IMPRESSIONS

DHS to enlist cell phones for early-warning chemical detection

App under development would enable phones to warn of chemical leaks or attacks

The Homeland Security Department wants to equip your cell phone with a sensor that can detect the presence of deadly chemicals.

DHS’ Science and Technology Directorate is developing an application for cell phones called Cell-All. When it senses a chemical threat, the Cell-All cell phone app will send an alert in one of two ways. If the threat is something like a small chlorine gas leak, the app will send a direct warning to the user via text message, vibration, noise or phone call. If it’s a larger-scale catastrophe, such as a sarin gas attack, Cell-All will notify an emergency operations center of the event, with time, location and chemical information.

Now, if you noticed a strong chemical smell on the subway, you could call 9-1-1. The idea behind the Cell-All initiative is that you don’t have to call anybody; the phone determines the nature of the threat and makes the call automatically. Also, if a number of people have Cell-All on their cell phones when a toxic substance is released into a crowd, the emergency operations center would receive multiple alerts about the same event. This crowd-sourcing feature would decrease the number of false positives, DHS says.

This is all still in the prototype phase. DHS is funding the next step in the R&D process, a proof of principle. The department is working with four cell phone manufacturers: Qualcomm, LG, Apple and Samsung. Cell-All program manager Stephen Dennis says he hopes to have 40 prototypes in a year or so. The first one will sniff out carbon monoxide and fire.

One of the elements of the prototype is an artificial nose, developed by a company called Rhevision. It’s a piece of porous silicon that changes color in the presence of certain molecules.

I can think of plenty of times I wished I had an artificial nose on a crowded subway. Clearly, there will be advantages to having this objective measure of toxicity in crowds. On a few occasions I’ve suspected toxic fumes on a crowded subway that turned out to be either somebody’s leftover Szechuan chicken or someone who forgot their Irish Spring that morning. Fortunately, Cell-All’s artificial nose will, in theory at least, be able to distinguish the odious but harmless from real toxic fumes. 

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

Featured

  • Telecommunications
    Stock photo ID: 658810513 By asharkyu

    GSA extends EIS deadline to 2023

    Agencies are getting up to three more years on existing telecom contracts before having to shift to the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle.

  • Workforce
    Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen

    OMB looks to retrain feds to fill cyber needs

    The federal government is taking steps to fill high-demand, skills-gap positions in tech by retraining employees already working within agencies without a cyber or IT background.

  • Acquisition
    GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock)

    GSA to consolidate multiple award schedules

    The General Services Administration plans to consolidate dozens of its buying schedules across product areas including IT and services to reduce duplication.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.