Chemical and bio sensors
“We see a lot of interest in chemical and bio sensors,” Bouchaud said. “There is an interest in the environment and gas for measuring air quality, for example.” Bouchaud predicts that the first gas sensor will be produced in 2014.
Research, such as CFDRC's work on nanoplasmonic sensor for detecting trace levels of protein in body fluids (urine, blood) and nano-impedance chemical detection shows some of this interest.
Some of the applications aimed at understanding the human body are simpler and more practical than others. Breath analysis for instance, for detecting alcohol level or symptomatic bad breath, are both applications that involve basic sensor technology, Bouchaud said. “Eventually, devices become much more complex, but if you were able to detect air particles for pollen for example, it is actually quite challenging to do that with the form factor or price of a smartphone.”
Curran also noted that fingerprints and fingerprint sensors are going to play a role in unlocking commercial possibilities, as a whole new realm of mobile security is on offer. “It is an exciting area as the capabilities and fidelity of the sensors expand and grow,” he said.
BACtrack S30 Breathalyzer
The BACtrack S30 Breathalyzer
is an example of a practical sensor used to estimate blood alcohol content (BAC) in a portable design. At 4 inches tall, less than 1 inch thick, and weighing 1.87 oz, the device uses Xtend fuel cell sensor technology. According to BACtrack's website
Fuel cell sensors offer more accurate readings than traditional semiconductor sensors, and roadside testing with fuel cell devices is now permitted in over 30 states… Fuel cell sensors rely on an electrochemical process that oxidizes the alcohol in a breath sample and produces an electrical current that the breathalyzer measures to determine the BAC.
BACtrack takes some pains to explain fuel sensor choice on its site, perhaps because the accuracy of breath tests is sometimes questioned (possibly by those taking them). However, now that breathalyzers are sending data to smartphones, the other popular concern is who can access the data from your personal breath test. (A small crowd around a booth showing off a crowded-funded personal breathalyzer that connects to a smartphone at a mobile app conference in San Francisco last year anecdotally proved the point: most people wanted to know if the data is truly private or was it being sent to the authorities, rather than how accurate the sensor was.)
Xtend fuel cell sensor converts alcohol into acetic acid, protons, and electrons when platinum wires in the sensor oxidize alcohol.
BACtrack's other features include test counter and a warning when breath flow is low. The device is FDA 510k, meaning it is cleared for personal use. The device spans a wide test range, with results displayed from 0 to 0.4% BAC. It features 10 to 20 seconds of warm-up time, 5 seconds of blowing time, and 3 seconds of response time.
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