Safety and OSHA News

Something good cell phones can do for safety

OK, we admit it: We’ve written plenty of articles on this Web site pointing out the dangers when drivers and workers are distracted by cell phones. But soon, those devices may play an important part in keeping people safe.

Through the Cell-All initiative directed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), cell phones could be equipped with sensors capable of detecting deadly chemicals.

How would they work? Cell-All would regularly sniff the surrounding air for certain volatile chemical compounds. If it detects, for example, a chlorine leak, a warning would be sounded for the user.

For potential catastrophes, such as a sarin gas attack, details, including time, location and the chemical compound detected, would be phoned to an emergency operations center.

All that — detection, identification and notification — would happen in less than 60 seconds.

If multiple phones send in an alert, emergency responders could get to the scene sooner and have a better idea where the chemical has already spread.

S&T is working with Qualcomm (a cell phone manufacturer that specializes in miniaturization), NASA and Rhevision Technology (a company that’s developed an artificial nose).

The goal is to get the cost down to a dollar a sensor and to develop it so it doesn’t wear down cell phones batteries.

Even though there have been some successful prototype demonstrations, it may take several years yet for the product to get to market. But Cell-All’s program manager, Stephen Dennis, says just as Bill Gates imagined a computer in every home, he imagines a chemical sensor in every cell phone.

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  1. I wonder if that would include methane sensing? That one could be a problem with some people!

  2. Instead of a person talking on a cell phone, the cell phone would be talking to you (big problem). You are coming back from lunch with your fellow co-workers going 55mph down the highway and all of a sudden the drivers cell phone says sensing methane, sensing methane and an oxygen mask drops from the roof of the car (for the driver only) and just before he dawns the mask he turns to you and his other co-workers and says “man I should not have eaten those crab cakes for lunch” according to my cell phone; looks like you all are going to die. This is truly a good example of why cell phones are so dangerous and should be banned while driving.


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