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Meet the electronic nose that sniffs out danger

Meet the electronic nose that sniffs out danger

Posting in Technology

An electronic nose that can sniff out minute amounts of chemicals may be hitting the market soon.

Eight years spent developing a tiny sensor that can detect harmful airborne substances, a chemical engineering professor is working bringing the resultant prototype -- an "electronic nose" -- to market.

Nosang Myung, based at the University of California, Riverside, is working with firm Nano Engineered Applications to create a commercial variation of the prototype nose. From detecting gas leaks to pesticide levels, the tech can be used to find a number of chemical agents -- and may even break into the military and homeland security markets.

The prototype includes a computer chip, USB ports, and temperature and humidity sensors.

The second version of the prototype is due out within a month, and will also feature GPS and Bluetooth technology to synchronize the electronic nose to a smartphone.

The team is also considering whether to bolt-on WiFi features.

Version 2.0, expected to debut in just a month, will sync with a smartphone via Bluetooth and will include GPS.

At present, the prototype measures about four inches by seven inches -- although the aim is to make the electronic nose the size of a credit card. The device uses a multi-channel nanosensor built using carbon nanotubes which can detect up to eight toxins in small amounts -- down to the parts per billion. A single-channel device would only be the size of a fingernail.

Although the device will most likely end up in military and security scenarios first, what's to stop it being available to the average consumer -- perhaps your smartphone could alert you to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide in your home, or monitor air quality for a child with asthma.

Image credit: Nosang Myung

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure