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Smartphone air detector that "sees" how well you sleep

A Finnish company has developed a miniature gas sensor that can be connected to mobile devices. The company’s researchers say it could be used in applications as diverse as monitoring air quality to sensing how well a person sleeps.

CO2 anturi.
Finnish researchers have developed a gas sensor that can be connected to mobile devices. Using a mobile device to measure carbon dioxide creates the possibility of developing new kinds of mobile phone applications. Image: VTT

The Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT, has developed a smartphone-connected miniature gas sensor.

VTT researchers say gas measurements made with smartphones will make things like the detection of internal air problems easier.

Also, sleep quality will be measurable with greater precision, using mobile healthcare applications which gauge carbon dioxide quantities.

The device can also monitor levels of carbon dioxide exhaled while sleeping, giving precise measurements of restful, or fitful, slumber.

Anna Rissanen, head of the VTT research team, says that the race by tech companies towards the “Internet of Things” has sparked research like this, and many sensor developers are looking to bring similar technology to market.

“Many day-to-day issues like precision and efficiency in the workplace can depend on carbon dioxide levels and indoor air quality,” Rissanen says.

Light through the air

The tiny sensor was developed by the team’s senior scientist Rami Mannila, and is based on shining light through an air sample captured in the device.

Carbon dioxide, for example, is identified based on its strong absorption of light at a wavelength of 4.2 nanometres.

Additional sensors can also be used to detect other gases or substances simultaneously, the researchers explained.

The technology itself is not particularly new. For years VTT has developed the spectroscopy-based sensors for use in miniaturised satellite- and drone-based environmental monitoring, the early detection of skin cancer and emissions-based fuel analysis.

There is no word yet on when these sensors could be available to buy, but the researchers say that the technology can be mass produced.

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