Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created low-cost sensors that will give smartphones and other wireless devices the ability to detect the presence of even the smallest amounts of toxic gas.
The sensors are made out of chemically altered carbon nanotubes, which break away from the insulating material wrapped around them upon the detection of toxic gas. This activates a near-field communication (NFC) alert on the device connected to the sensor.
The sensors only cost about 5 cents each to make, and about 4 million of them can be created from just 1 gram of the carbon nanotube components.
Researchers will be using the sensors, which are able to detect toxic gas as little as 10 parts per million in the air in as fast as five seconds, to create inexpensive and lightweight radio frequency identification, or RFID, badges that can be utilized for personal security and safety from toxic gases.
These RFID badges will have military applications, as they will be able to replace all the extra equipment that soldiers have to carry around to defend themselves against toxic gas, including choking and nerve agents.
According to MIT's Timothy Swager, the lead author of the study, the RFID badges will have a weight lighter than a credit card and can be integrated into uniforms to work with the wireless technologies that each soldier already carries.
In addition to military applications, the sensors and RFID badges that could be made out of them can also have industrial applications. Professionals working in environments where toxic gases can leak into their surroundings, such as in mines and laboratories, can wear the badges to alert them of such instances.
Swager believes that the sensor his team has developed is the smallest one that can be created for the detection of toxic gas. As such, the next step in the project is to test the sensors with live chemical agents outside the laboratory, which are harder to detect and are more dispersed.
There are also future plans to create a mobile app that can make more defined measurements on the amounts of toxic gas in the environment, with differences in signals showing lower or higher concentrations.
Swager, however, admitted that mobile app development is beyond the team right now, as their expertise is in chemistry.
Another recently reported project from MIT is an algorithm that learns how to predict human behavior by watching YouTube videos and 600 hours of clips from TV shows.