Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Homeland Security Sensors on Your Cell Phone

I started reading this and thought what a stupid idea, just from the false positive standpoint. They discuss how they wouldn't trigger an alert based on a single phone alarm.
American cell phones can already check e-mail, surf the Internet and store music, but they could have a new set of features in coming years: the Department of Homeland Security wants them to sense biological, chemical and radioactive material.

Putting hazardous material sensors in commercial cell phones has been discussed in scientific circles for years, according to researchers in the field. More recently, the idea gained support among government agencies, and DHS said publicly in May that it wants businesses to start coming up with proposals.

At the 2007 DHS Science and Technology Stakeholders Conference, S&T Director of Innovation Roger McGinnis outlined how the system could work. Cell phone sensors would continually test the air for harmful compounds and digitally relay any information to a central monitoring system if they find anything amiss.

“It’s a great way to get millions of detectors out there,” McGinnis said.

Like the built-in GPS function many cell phones now offer, customers would have the option of turning the sensors off, McGinnis said.

S&T spokesman Christopher Kelly said the theoretical system’s strength would lie in the sheer number of sensors. The cell phone sensors might be less sophisticated than highly advanced ones some developers are fitting into hand-held models, but they would make up for it in what Kelly called “ubiquitous detection.”

If just one went off, it could be ruled a false positive, he said. But if several detected a harmful compound, emergency workers would know there was a problem, triangulate the phones’ location react to the situation.

That sounds pretty clever. Though I think that they still could run into false positives when groups of users run into something that appears to be hazardous, but is just incidental. Like smoke from a fire. If the smoke is hazardous, it would still be a concern. I wonder if the system would call those people and tell them to get out of Dodge.

I'm still trying to figure how they are going to add a detector to those razor phones.

Radiation seems to be a first concern:
Pennsylvania-based eV Products, which manufactures x-ray and gamma ray detection equipment, and Gentag Inc., a company with offices in Washington, D.C., and the Netherlands that designs radio frequency identification (RFID) and other sensors for cell phones are stepping up to the plate. For now, their primarily goal is to create a cell phone-based platform that detects only radiation.
I wonder what level they'll set them at for an alarm. A shipment of radioactive material could easily set off a bunch of detectors in a short time and be totally innocent.

Still, it is an interesting idea.

No comments: