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Cell Phones Could Sniff Out Deadly Chemicals

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the feature-creep-could-be-nasty dept.

Cellphones 136

Hugh Pickens writes "Science Daily reports that Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate's Cell-All is an initiative to equip cell phones with a sensor capable of detecting deadly chemicals. A chip costing less than a dollar would be embedded in cell phones and programmed to alert either the cell phone carrier to the presence of toxic chemicals in the air, and/or a central station that can monitor how many alerts in an area are being received. While one alert might be a false positive, hundreds would indicate the need for evacuation. 'Our goal is to create a lightweight, cost-effective, power-efficient solution,' says Stephen Dennis, Cell-All's program manager. Does this always-on surveillance mean that the govenment can track your precise whereabouts whenever it wants? On the contrary, DHS says; Cell-All will operate only on an opt-in basis and will transmit data anonymously."

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Great.. (5, Funny)

stonedcat (80201) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815518)

Now I have to turn off my cellphone when I cook meth.

Re:Great.. (4, Informative)

toastar (573882) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815656)

Now I have to turn off my cellphone when I cook meth.

You should do that anyway.

Re:Great.. (1)

fabioalcor (1663783) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815726)

Now I have to turn off my cellphone when I eat beans.

FTFY.

Re:Great.. (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815728)

Now I have to turn off my cell phone when I serve burritos.

Re:Great.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815944)

paying off the cellphone makers to have automatic alerts to the \NSA/police should be easy. This would take the war on drugs to a whole new level. You can also check for explosives at the same time. Combined with gps this would find all sorts of baddness in a big way. Just walking past a drug house on the sidewalk should be enough for a trigger, and a hundred or so alerts should be enough for a search warrant. As much as this smells like big brother, it would actually make the world a "better" place. A police state, but better. And as for borritos, if you wanted to find illegal mexicans or some other ethnic group then you can search for specific foods. If the government did this openly it would be publicly supported, it's a pity they won't even consider that.

Mass Panic? (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815528)

One might be a false positive. Hundreds might indicate the need for evacuation.

So how is that person holding the false positive going to react? Maybe they're the first phone to realize it? Maybe they don't understand what 'false positive' means?

For personal safety issues such as a chlorine gas leak, a warning is sounded; the user can choose a vibration, noise, text message or phone call.

I'd be concerned those false positives might not be warmly received. Especially if someone in a crowded Starbucks has a phone that starts to alarm and says "Oh my god, there's chlorine gas in here!" You might be hit with some lawsuits after a few people are injured in a stampede. Contrived scenario? Maybe. But people are less than rational beings when their lives are perceived to be at stake. While academia is right on board [slashdot.org] some of the larger cities have been a little resistant [slashdot.org] toward citizen operated detectors.

Re:Mass Panic? (1)

dontbgay (682790) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815604)

Why would they need to know? It could be a passive opt-in system with no identifying information except the return from the GPS module. And rather than the Death March playing when something's sniffed out, what about it.. Does nothing? I mean, send a message that something has been possibly found, but no other indication. There's no need to get a cattle stampede going.

Re:Mass Panic? (3, Insightful)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815672)

From the summary and article:

A chip [...] programmed to either alert the cell phone carrier [...] and/or a central station

I don't think the user is involved here (they probably thought of your scenario already).

Re:Mass Panic? (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815766)

From the summary and article:

A chip [...] programmed to either alert the cell phone carrier [...] and/or a central station

I don't think the user is involved here (they probably thought of your scenario already).

Also from the article (what the GP quoted):

For personal safety issues such as a chlorine gas leak, a warning is sounded; the user can choose a vibration, noise, text message or phone call.

How were you modded insightful?

Re:Mass Panic? (5, Informative)

HoppQ (29469) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815978)

How were you modded insightful?

Well, if a person who has a slashdot account is logged in and that account has mod points, a drop-down menu will appear below a post, and choosing "Insightful" from it will mod the message.

Re:Mass Panic? (2, Funny)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816406)

Don't forget there's a FAQ:
http://yro.slashdot.org/faq/com-mod.shtml [slashdot.org]
Scroll down to "How does moderation work?"
Lots of other useful info there too.

Re:Mass Panic? (2, Funny)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816126)

For personal safety issues such as a chlorine gas leak, a warning is sounded; the user can choose a vibration, noise, text message or phone call.

You already have a fine detector for that - it's called your NOSE.

Also works wonders for all other sorts of poisonous gases.

Re:Mass Panic? (3, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816344)

I wouldn't object to a carbon monoxide detector in my phone.. it would be better than one of those little strips you leave near the boiler.

Does this always-on surveillance mean that the govenment can track your precise whereabouts whenever it wants?

This seems a little stupid.. simply having a phone and having it switched on surely means you can be tracked by the government already, if it really wanted to do so?

Re:Mass Panic? (0, Offtopic)

daveime (1253762) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816516)

How were you modded insightful?

They looked at your score, and applied the exact opposite procedure.

Re:Mass Panic? (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#31817068)

I am surprised I got modded up. Didn't have time to read the article when I posted, but read just enough to "know" more than most people reading my comment.

I assume, if they already want to account for false positives with the aggregate data, that they account for the problems with acting on a false positive on your own. Even so, until properly addressed, the original poster's point is a real concern.

(I don't expect mods to see this, but feel free to mod my original post down).

Re:Mass Panic? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815770)

Cell phones already can inform authorities of your position and relay audio even when supposedly "off". This is the next step (and the stupid public will not realize the truth): a chemical sensor to further enhance big brother's ability to spy on us...

Re:Mass Panic? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31816050)

Not to worry, posting AC is a foolproof defence against government spying.

Re:Mass Panic? (3, Funny)

Alan426 (962302) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816086)

AT&T will charge $9.95 a month if you want to receive toxic gas warnings.

Re:Mass Panic? (1)

gtall (79522) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816716)

Yeah, but you only get them 79.3% of the time. The other times, you will be asked to phone home and tell them if you are dead or not.

Re:Mass Panic? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816258)

Don't worry, I'm sure the cell provider will decide to withhold actual information from the phone's owner unless he pays an extra $50/month.

Re:Mass Panic? (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816948)

It would work if cellphones communicated directly with other cellphones in the area (not via any central) and if enough of them were sensing bombs they could all ring their alarms together. ...but this is homeland security so a sensible proposal which cuts them out of the deal won't be considered.

I trust 'em! (2, Funny)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815538)

On the contrary, DHS says Cell-All will operate only on an opt-in basis and will transmit data anonymously.

And I'll fund this entire venture after I complete my sale of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Re:I trust 'em! (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816846)

"Anonymous...unless there's a court order signed by a judge", right?

Judging by recent behavior the feds don't worry too much about court orders and other legal niceties, not when they've got the Patriot Act.

Stinky Pants! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815548)

This might also be a method for monitoring hygeine?

Re:Stinky Pants! (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815862)

iPhone Personal Methane Detector: We've got an app for that.

This will be the greatest thing since "SWATting" (3, Funny)

mbstone (457308) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815550)

Hackers will be able to summon black helicopters full of men in white Hazmat suits and have entire city blocks cordoned off.

There'll be an app to detect Colombian dope dealers wandering around with bags full of currency, so we can mug them.

And don't forget the app that sniffs the air around you and occasionally plays the ringtone, "Phew! Somebody farted!"

Re:This will be the greatest thing since "SWATting (2, Informative)

dwarfsoft (461760) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815620)

You mean this? [youtube.com]

Ah the The Vaughans, I have waited patiently for years to link to thee.

Re:This will be the greatest thing since "SWATting (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816384)

That's actually surprisingly good for a song about farting.

Made & Exported from Where It's Needed Most (4, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815554)

A chip costing less than a dollar is embedded in a cell phone and programmed to either alert the cell phone carrier to the presence of toxic chemicals in the air ...

Well look on the bright side, the Chinese worker who makes the chip only has to step outside of the factory and turn it on to see if it works on a wide spectrum. Of course who would be foolish enough to risk their job, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness with a complaint about a local government official being bribed into letting your employer pollute to its heart's content?

Re:Made & Exported from Where It's Needed Most (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815714)

A chip costing less than a dollar is embedded in a cell phone and programmed to either alert the cell phone carrier to the presence of toxic chemicals in the air ...

Well look on the bright side, the Chinese worker who makes the chip only has to step outside of the factory and turn it on to see if it works on a wide spectrum. Of course who would be foolish enough to risk their job, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness with a complaint about a local government official being bribed into letting your employer pollute to its heart's content?

Excuse me, but if your level of cynicism catches on that might be detrimental to the the people who matter most (that being the stockholders of the chip makers).

Re:Made & Exported from Where It's Needed Most (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815884)

Huh? What makes anyone think that Chinese values include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Those are American values. Talk about cultural imperialism, imposing ideals on another culture! It's more like risking your family's prosperity and/or survival.

Re:Made & Exported from Where It's Needed Most (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816412)

You need a sarcasm detecting chip in your phone.

Plus the oblig Simpson's clip - I can't find it in English but you can still get the gist here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAReq4WMmqI [youtube.com]

"Oh, a sarcasm detector *rolls eyes*, that's a REALLL useful invention"

Re:Made & Exported from Where It's Needed Most (1)

gtall (79522) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816774)

Maybe he needs a Windows Smartphone:

Hi there, I see you are about to expire, would like some help with:

* broadcasting sarcastic comments to your friends before you pop your clogs?

* a mournful prayer of remorse for the sinful life you have been leading?

* wiping your calendar clean of future events, 'cause, y'know...you won't be here?

Re:Made & Exported from Where It's Needed Most (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#31817034)

Hey what's my phone doing.. blue screen, white letters.. "0xFACEFACD: USER_DEATH_IMMINENT wha?" *gasp*

Drugs (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815568)

That's what they are really after sniffing out. The hazadous chemicals is the standard fear line used to get away with it.

Re:Drugs (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815602)

mod parent insightful

HEY MODS!!! DIAL 911!!! EMERGENCY!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31816360)

mod parent up

I hope it doesn't alert the owner. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815582)

Seriously, I do hope that the notices are sent to the carrier/emergency services without informing the (panicky) phone owner. The average person will scream "Poison gas?!?" and start a panic.

Not so seriously, does this mean an upswing in poison gas detection if someone keeps the phone in their back pocket?

Sweet worse battery life! (3, Insightful)

ElSupreme (1217088) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815610)

Awesome now another chip in my phone to help trim away my already bad phone battery life!

Re:Sweet worse battery life! (5, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815960)

Awesome now another chip in my phone to help trim away my already bad phone battery life!

Most broad spectrum gas detection sensors generally work by heating up a strange oxide catalyst and measuring a resistance change. Not entirely unlike an O2 sensor in a car exhaust system.

You can buy a gas sensor off the shelf from boutique online stores for about $5 each, so $1 in bulk wholesale is believable, or at least possible.

The problem is power consumption. Check out a MQ-4, at a whopping 750 mW heater power. Thats probably more than the entire rest of the phone at peak. And the heater has to preheat for a minimum of 24 hours to provide good data, this is not something that "goes to sleep mode". Thats 3/4 of a watt, all day, every day. It will literally make a poor hand warmer in ones pocket.

http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_id=9404 [sparkfun.com]

http://www.sparkfun.com/datasheets/Sensors/Biometric/MQ-4.pdf [sparkfun.com]

The parts in the sensor are not cheap. The manufacturer is already highly motivated to make it as small and light as possible, which would incidentally make it low powered. At this time, thats the best "we" can do with current technology. Its not like I cherry picked the highest power unit available. However, higher power would imply bigger would imply more durable, so I'd think a cell phone model might actually be worse.

My very-much-non-smartphone uses a 3.7V lithium battery and runs "several days" between charges. Lets claim 4 days. So, 5 volts / 33 ohms = 150 ma times 5/3.7 (voltage upconverter) means 200 ma continuous draw from my 3.7V battery. 200 ma times 24 hours/day times 4 days, equals about 19 AMP-HOURS just to run the gas sensor. We'll add another amp-hour to run the phone itself, and round up to 20 AH.

Batteryspace sells a nice 20 AH lead acid battery... 14 pounds, 7 inches by 3 inches by 7 inches. Rechargeable lithium, maybe half that size and weight. We are looking at the revival of the "bag phone" circa 1980s.

http://www.batteryspace.com/sealedleadacidbattery12v20ah240whs.aspx [batteryspace.com]

I would qualify this idea as an epic fail.

Re:Sweet worse battery life! (1)

swillden (191260) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816334)

My very-much-non-smartphone uses a 3.7V lithium battery and runs "several days" between charges. Lets claim 4 days. So, 5 volts / 33 ohms = 150 ma times 5/3.7 (voltage upconverter) means 200 ma continuous draw from my 3.7V battery. 200 ma times 24 hours/day times 4 days, equals about 19 AMP-HOURS just to run the gas sensor. We'll add another amp-hour to run the phone itself, and round up to 20 AH.

I see two options. Either no one has realized that this thing will increase the power consumption of the phone by a factor of 20 OR the sensor they're talking about is more efficient (though perhaps more limited in other ways) than the one you're talking about.

Do you really think the first is more likely?

I mean, it could be that these folks are just complete dolts, but...

Re:Sweet worse battery life! (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816768)

Forgot the third option, the whole thing could be purified refined vaporware, or some kind of FUD attack.

I mean, it could be that these folks are just complete dolts, but...

Dude, a "manager" at "department of homeland security"?

Re:Sweet worse battery life! (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816902)

like most "stupid" government proposals, I'd say it was more like some neophyte politician on an ego trip trying to grab headline inches.

Re:Sweet worse battery life! (1)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 4 years ago | (#31817046)

Ok, here's how it could work:

Every cell phone switches the sensor on randomly, maybe once a month for three or four hours. It doesn't switch on at all if your battery charge is less than some set amount. If you notice something 'suspicious' you have the option of switching it on manually.

'Phones communicate directly with other phones around them. If a "switched on" phone detects something, it alerts other phones and they switch on their sensors. If several other phones also sense something, all the alarms go off and the feds are notified.

This solves the privacy aspect and puts the battery drain at an acceptable level.

Of course it won't solve any real problems (a terrorist can just drive a private car to the target and detonate before the sensors have had time to work, but the whole thing is just move-plot security anyway...

Bad idea (2, Insightful)

vikingpower (768921) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815628)

Anything working only and mainly thanks to and through people's fears and worries is, to my experience, a bad idea.

Re:Bad idea (1)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816552)

If they could add something personally useful it would be more attractive. I wouldn't mind having this chip if they also added a CO sensor, maybe a smoke sensor or a general 'air quality' (CO2? ozone?) indicator that could be read directly from the phone. I also wouldn't mind having one on my car, and able to command the hvac system (i.e. change to inside air, or modify fan speed).

Re:Bad idea (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816968)

You've just described the entire Department of Homeland Security (and most of government, for that matter).

That sensor is called... (1)

Errol backfiring (1280012) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815680)

A user.

Hello? Hello? Hmm, it seems to work...

I hope they don't give these to kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815696)

Those sensors will be going off left and right in the stairwells of middle and high schools, what with girls wearing perfume (and maybe some boys with cologne), many being (as I shudder to recall) inexperienced at estimating proper dosage.

Obvious (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815722)

Of course you would be dangerously close to it so what is the use?

Re:Obvious (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816092)

Your death will not be in vain!

Right... (5, Insightful)

Wolvenhaven (1521217) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815732)

DHS says Cell-All will operate only on an opt-in basis and will transmit data anonymously.
Right, because the DHS has such a fine track record of opt-in, anonymous data, and not using it for other purposes. While they might have opt-in it will be buried under pages of the cellphone contract or settings and will be on by default requiring the user to spend a few hours figuring out where it is hidden to turn it off. Anonymous transmission, maybe anonymous by the fact it relays cell tower coordinates with an identifier number through which they can gain the personal information "only" by asking the cell provider.

My question is, how often are dangerous chemicals released in the air for this to be needed? Places which handle dangerous chemicals already have detection systems in place, it's not often you hear of a city being evacuated because of some sort of toxic accident. Or is it to help combat terrorism? It sounds to me like it's a location based detection system which will be [ab]used to detect drugs and other activities instead of to "protect the public".

Re:Right... (1)

Vectormatic (1759674) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816122)

opt-in ..... on by default

you sort of contradict yourself, on by default would be 'opt out'

i agree with your sentiment though, your general TLA isnt very trustworthy these days

Re:Right... (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816404)

Marketing 101, call it what everyone wants to hear and use an asterisk to explain that by that you mean the opposite. Redesign a product with cheaper more fragile parts? call it NEW and IMPROVED!. They'll call it opt-in because you could just not have a phone and then you wouldn't be included. It's a butchery of the language only a weasel covered in slime would use, but we're combining DHS and a telecommunications company, so it would hardly be surprising.

Re:Right... (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816124)

They could have just put it in all the cell phones and not told anyone. See, this new government transparency thing is working! /sarcasm

Re:Right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31816798)

Makes me wonder if it will detect the flouride in our drinking water....

Deadly chemicals like benzoylmethylecgonine? (5, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815740)

Also known as cocaine. Or tetrahydrocannabinol, diacetylmorphine, methamphetamine or similar killers of children. What, don't you want your cellphone to be used to sniff out the murderers of children? What kind of monster are you?

Re:Deadly chemicals like benzoylmethylecgonine? (0, Offtopic)

celle (906675) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815870)

"sniff out the murderers of children?"

By that definition we need a chip to sniff out corrupt and psychopathic politicians/businessmen. You know, the ones who have no problem sending other peoples kids to die in unwanted wars while they and their friends keep filling their bank accounts.

Re:Deadly chemicals like benzoylmethylecgonine? (1)

BobMcD (601576) | more than 4 years ago | (#31817052)

You're touching on the hidden agenda, I think. This kind of technology would also be useful for detecting the use of all sorts of illicit substances. And they'll know which other phones were there, or were nearby recently, complete with GPS data.

I don't genuinely fear the end of marijuana, but actually tobacco. City of New York bans it everywhere, period, and the chemical sensors issue tickets automagically.

Re:Deadly chemicals like benzoylmethylecgonine? (1)

AkkarAnadyr (164341) | more than 4 years ago | (#31817058)

Calm down, nanny-state boy, the free market will take care of this.

The phones will provide streaming data to your insurance company about how much exposure you're getting to, say, second-hand smoke, and adjust your rates accordingly. The accelerometer and GPS data will tell them when you're speeding, etc.

Can't afford insurance after that? Why, then we'll just take the children to a better home, you slacking deadbeat. We have to respect the rule of law, you know.

Sounds Good (2, Interesting)

rhaacke (1563489) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815752)

As long as it is possible to buy a cell phone without the chip if I so choose.

iwidliwi (1)

jlebrech (810586) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815782)

does this mean i can make an app to successfully detect trace elements widliwi for iphone (like in star trek). i'll be rich!

I can just imagine (1)

cntThnkofAname (1572875) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815794)

I can imagine the many ways to abuse this feature:

Your buddies and you are drinking, someone farts... phone says it's deadly
There's a million ways this can be used with house hold chemicals brought to school to get out of a test
You notice a good looking girl (or guy) on the street about to go into a store. You go over to her, and say: "WAIT!, my phone says this place is deadly... How bout you come to lunch with me, it's much safer."

All joking aside, how many people are going to take these threats from a 1$ sensor seriously?

Re:I can just imagine (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816186)

Pfft. No one will trust the results from a single $1 sensor. However... 20 or 30 of them alarming at once followed by finding 20 or 30 casualties at the location will make a pretty compelling case that there's toxic agent present.

Re:I can just imagine (1)

cntThnkofAname (1572875) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816322)

Haha, I thought the goal was to prevent death, I mean currently the person who drops dead is our sensor, and these 1$ things are meant to replace the poor dead person.
However, I do see your point. With more alarms comes more validity. But the amount of the phones that will have this feature and with harmful chemicals and groups of 20-30 people being around them, a rare occurrence (at least I assume), I can't really see these sensors being really more than a joke in all cases but the most extreme... and even in those cases (aside from chemical warfar) those people should have sensors already.

Re:I can just imagine (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816428)

You've got to think like a paranoid government agency tasked with either preventing terrorist attacks or determining the facts afterwards (should they fail to prevent it in the first place). Minimizing the effects of an attack falls under prevention, fwiw. Yes, there are portable devices that are much more reliable and sensitive, which can be brought to bear. The early warning is useful though.

Picture: You're the first responders, arriving on a scene with 20 or 30 people passed out on the floor. It would be nice to have some clue as to why... Particularly if there is a need to stay out of the "danger zone" and perhaps evacuate an area.

Re:I can just imagine (1)

MiniMike (234881) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816466)

... and these 1$ things are meant to replace the poor dead person.

Great, more outsourcing. This will not be well received.

Re:I can just imagine (0)

ThePlague (30616) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816336)

Yeah, sure, but how often does that happen? When chemical plants fail, it's usually very dramatic with no sensors required to alert people. This whole idea looks like a solution in search of a problem at best, and possibly sinister with just a bit of speculation on alternative uses.

Re:I can just imagine (1)

daveime (1253762) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816588)

Yes, because when 20 or 30 people are keeling over clutching their throats and loudly choking, you'll be checking your "you have new toxic warnings messages" on your cell phone, and possibly wondering if your sensor is defective.

The posts say it! (2, Interesting)

srees (1290588) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815840)

Obviously I'm not the only one utterly convinced that the optional part is a complete sham. What a thin cover story for an attempt to embed bomb sniffing devices in something everyone carries, in the name of greater security. Folks at a rocketry convention would see men in black in no time flat if they 'forgot' to register their event with the monitors. 1986.

Batman: The Dark Knight? (1)

SpyderPSU (582418) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815842)

This seems oddly familiar to Batman: Dark Knight. Using cell phones to collect data points throughout a city to find the culprit (the Joker / toxic chemicals). Ultimately, in the movie, there were great concerns about privacy and use of the technology. The safety net here "Cell-All will operate only on an opt-in basis and will transmit data anonymously" seems nice on paper, but I'm sure those in a position to use it will feel the pressure to exploit the technology for more.

Re:Batman: The Dark Knight? (1)

colonelquesadilla (1693356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816914)

They probably stole the idea from batman. The government gets most of it's ideas from scifi. Star wars was a popular one for a while, what with the jedi warriors being trained and the lasers in space (SDI or Star Wars). Lately they've been reading, mostly Orwell I'm afraid. I'm hoping they'll get to Heinlein and Niven soon though... get a good working HIV vaccine and Heinlein's fiction could become reality.

Re:Batman: The Dark Knight? (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31817022)

> I'm hoping they'll get to Heinlein and Niven soon though...

Niven, as in the death penalty for speeding?

A slight drawback.... (1)

Virtually Sane (1168935) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815882)

So does it sound an alarm after I've eaten a curry?

I know some people who's BO would qualify as toxic :)

They already have a less-precise version of this (1)

British (51765) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815904)

It's called the "person you are talking to coughs & suddenly dies" mechanism on the phone. Yes, the canary has been made obsolete.

Re:They already have a less-precise version of thi (1)

daveime (1253762) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816620)

Bergholt Stuttley Johnson, is that you ?

Mission Creep (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815908)

"Cell-All will operate only on an opt-in basis and will transmit data anonymously"

Buwahahhahaahahaaa, Yeah, I'm sure that's how it will start. But as with any "Security" program IT WILL result in mission creep. Airport searches, criminal activity databases, fingerprint databases, DNA databases, if there is one thing that our government has proven beyond a reasonable doubt it is that systems initially used to track/monitor for "bad" people/things will eventually be used to track/monitor everyone/everything. Airport searches initially only searched for things capable of commandeering/damaging the plane, now ANY form of contraband is searched for, drugs, kiddy porn, "Suspicious" money, even "objectionable" reading material has been screened. Wasn't there even a incident a while back where a cargo tracking system was used to track law abiding people instead? I see this particular system eventually used to search for meth labs, then used to get search warrants for houses where any illicit chemicals are detected. It'll eventually get so bad that setting off too many firecrackers or messing around with a home chemistry set/bioreactor (homemade fuel) will result in a SWAT team coming through your door, after all you could be a terrorist building a bomb.

Panic app (1)

chord.wav (599850) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815912)

A chip costing less than a dollar would be embedded in cell phones and programmed to either alert the cell phone carrier to the presence of toxic chemicals in the air, and/or a central station that can monitor how many alerts in an area are being received

And how about alerting the user that paid for the phone in the first place? I want flashing red-on-yellow big letters that say, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! With a loud siren sound too.

Re:Panic app (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816042)

I want flashing red-on-yellow big letters that say, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!

Run which direction?

Corporations would not want this (1)

yt8znu35 (1202731) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815938)

If this were to come into being, cell users would be horrified at how often chemicals would be detected. This is really the last thing that corporations would want, so it is not going to happen.

Re:Corporations would not want this (1)

colonelquesadilla (1693356) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816958)

Not sure about that, I didn't RTFA but I doubt the alarms will be set to go off at very low levels of anything. I mean, obviously in any newish building there are some solvent fumes and stuff. But I doubt this will be that sensitive. I mean, we can't have these things sending for the cavalry every time they notice chlorine coming off a municipal swimming pool.

In Other News: Biology Lab Techs Shot by SWAT (3, Interesting)

cheesethegreat (132893) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815958)

I used to work in a genetics lab, and this is a terrifying thought. Imagine 20 lab techs working with chemicals in the same room, easily enough to set off the "low levels indicating danger and not a drill" alarm. Assuming that this is set to detect chemicals that are not yet at dangerous levels, merely anomalous levels, how do they propose to avoid raiding GlaxoSmithKline on a daily basis?

Re:In Other News: Biology Lab Techs Shot by SWAT (2, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816054)

Even worse, imagine a guy with a job as a house painter / floor refinisher / furniture refinisher.

Car mechanics will also have an interesting false alarm profile.

that's it (1)

zogger (617870) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816138)

The false alarms will be tremendous. How about landscapers and farmers, or even joe homeowner spraying some weeds around his driveway? Modern technological life has a ton of chemicals associated with it. Use some bleach on your kitchen counter, or in the laundry, stuff like that.

Re:that's it (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816482)

Easy, send them all to gitmo for making life inconvenient for the paranoid nut-jobs^W^W DHS.

Ha Ha (5, Funny)

axonis (640949) | more than 4 years ago | (#31815980)

Sounds like "Vapour ware" to me ;)

could be a use (1)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816010)

There are potential, non-political-control-through-fear uses for this. Just about every environmental scientist would be thrilled to see the kind of fine grained data such a huge network could produce. Of course, the potential for political abuse is huge. I think a project like this could really benefit from open development.

A telescreen in my pocket (3, Interesting)

wowbagger (69688) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816026)

I have a solution to our energy crisis - connect a generator to George Orwell.

HE only imagined the telescreen being able to hear and see you - not smell you and determine you had committed foodcrime by examining your flatulence.

And of course, if you
a) stand near somebody smoking (ANYTHING)
b) stand near a barbecue
c) stand downwind of somebody fertilizing their yard (OMFG NITROGEN COMPOUNDS! TERRRRRRORRRRRRISTS!)
d) be in a room where somebody is using a non-approved substance
You will be a suspect.

If these chips are so wonderful, why not make them into self-contained modules and locate them throughout our cities, right along with the cameras, microphones, gun-shot detectors, radar units, tire-pressure monitor transponders, and so on.

Re:A telescreen in my pocket (3, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816096)

If these chips are so wonderful, why not make them into self-contained modules and locate them throughout our cities

The EPA has planted those for DECADES as revenue generators. Essentially the chemical plant equivalent of a red light camera. Go to your nearest chemical plant, look to prevailing downwind direction (assuming there is a prevailing wind direction in your geography) and locate a "one car sized" separately fenced in area with a pickup truck load of sensing gear, and power and phone lines feeding it, and plenty of no trespassing signs and locks. Also if you search 2600 or maybe Phrack from the 80s, you'll find an ancient article on dialing in and reading the results. This is old stuff, very old.

Oh dear (1)

Techman83 (949264) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816046)

Hope these don't come to Australia, I'm regularly surrounded by dangerous levels of Sulphar Dioxide and Methane gas!

It is actually an intresting idea (2, Interesting)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816106)

The idea is not a million miles removed from the folding@home and seti programs. Why build a supercomputer you can't afford when you can utalize existing hardware?

Why install a dense and costly sensor grid when you can disribute the sensor in a much cheaper package? You could of course install countless sensors with their own battery pack, processing power and communication gear, OR you could hitch them to existing gear that is by its nature widely distrubuted.

And with it, you could create a grid that reaches almost anywhere to measure air quality. I am pretty sure there are scientists who have a wet dream thinking of a very dense air measurment grid in urban areas.

Sure, privacy could be an issue...

Oh wait, no it isn't. If you got a phone, "they" can track you already. No special sniffer needed. How many of the privacy nutters got a phone? Your secret overlords thank you for carrying your tracker.

So, no privacy issue is added except perhaps "they" being able to tell you farted.

The idea is very close to using cellphones to track traffic jams. Lots of phone signals not moving? Traffic jam. Why not? The alternative is installing lots and lots of camera's.

Yeah, the tech would need good laws to regulate it, but if done right, it could create a very powerful tool for having a dense sensor grid at marginal costs.

We in the west enjoy excellent weather forcasts thanks to a dense grid of weather station, many of which are operated by amateurs. This could do the same for monitoring air quality with a hundred times refinement. An intresting idea, once you get beyond the knee jerk privacy reaction which anybody with a cellphone has already accepted. Allthough I wouldn't put it behind the average privacy nutter to wrap his cellphone in tinfoil, just in case.

I want one (1)

Plazmid (1132467) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816220)

because what's not cool about having a sensor in my phone capable of detecting many different chemicals that I can opt out on not sending data to the government? Given that there was a recent fluorine leak on my campus(no one was hurt or injured, though someone did gain the nickname of fluorine boy), these might be useful. Also, given that the chips will cost next to nothing and will be produced in high quantities, they could become as ubiquitous as accelerometers are today. Just imagine all the cool things hardware hackers could do with them. But the most interesting effect these could have is stricter environmental restrictions. Something like "Opt-in cellphone data shows that pesticide levels are higher than we initial thought in homes" or "people who were around this brand of housepaint were more likely to develop cancer." Then again, these sensors are pretty much vaporware at this point.

Tracking us? Sure ... (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816326)

Does this always-on surveillance mean that the govenment can track your precise whereabouts whenever it wants?

Sure ... but not because there's a chemical sensor in your phone. That's just stupid. If they can track us, it's because there's a GPS chip in there, and that's nothing new.

Major technical issue (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816484)

It appears they failed to account for the fact that these sensors will be embedded in a device with a case of plastic made in China. Any time the phone gets warm it's going to outgas right into the sensor and alarm.

And then... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31816500)

...The detectors turn better, eventually into artifical bloodhound noses, so while the data from the mobile may be anonymous, your scent will definitely be recognized, cataloged and tracked. You may not know what or where you ate ten weeks ago, but the goverment will.

Pheromonone detectors (1)

handy_vandal (606174) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816648)

Cell phones with pheromone detector chips, so Homeland Security can determine the level of fear gripping America.

Let's not forget... (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816778)

The goal of a terrorist is to terrorize their enemies. Were this to be implemented as described - a small sensor in millions of cell phones scattered across the country, alerting a central monitoring station - they've made the job of the terrorists much easier. Rather than trigger a device to release posion, explosions, etc., now all a terrorist need do is disperse sufficient amounts of "poisons" to trigger detection and cause panic...

And once the terrorists cause the Gov't to "cry Wolf" too many times, the public will ignore the warnings.

Bad idea (1)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816788)

I'd never by a phone with this in, if there were alternatives available.
I value my privacy and the battery life of my phone too much.

skeptical (1)

Eric Smith (4379) | more than 4 years ago | (#31816844)

DHS says Cell-All will operate only on an opt-in basis and will transmit data anonymously.

Sure, at first.

Just like how your census form won't be used inappropriately, except maybe to round up japanese-americans and put them in internment camps.

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