The Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate demonstrated in front of invited media and webcast guests the first-ever cell phone capable of detecting life-threatening chemical exposures, dubbed the Cell-All. The S&T worked with commercial vendors to miniaturize environmental sensors and embed them in commercial devices. The cell phone’s capabilities were demonstrated by the Los Angeles Fire Department, which used them to detect a mock carbon-monoxide incident.

Cell-All is a unique environmental sensor and application for cell phones that enhances personal and public safety, explained a DHS S&T spokesperson before the demonstration. He said that Cell-All detects and alerts individuals and public-safety authorities to the release of specific toxic chemicals into the environment, putting environmental threat detection within reach of anyone who has a cell phone.

Guided by researchers at the S&T, the technology was developed by using existing technologies and tweaking them to fit the project. The technologies were contributed by NASA's Center for Nanotechnology, Ames Research Center; Colorado-based nanotechnology chip maker Synkera; network operator Qualcomm; and research and analysis firm NC4. It also included participation from the California Environmental Protection Agency and testing by the Los Angeles Fire and Police Departments.

The alert is delivered to a device with specific information, such as exposure level or a map of the affected area. In addition, the chemical-detector-empowered cell phone has the potential to send two-way information anonymously. When a citizens’ phone records a high reading, the chemical data and the person’s location can be transmitted to an emergency operations center anonymously, which then can be sent to first-responder agencies, said Bttn. Chief Corey Rose of the LAFD.

During the mock emergency, first responders released toxic carbon monoxide — an odorless, colorless and highly toxic gas — and tested sensors on firefighters and mock citizens. Los Angeles fire and police departments successfully performed a mock response and rescue operation immediately following the Cell-All demonstration.

DOWNLOAD: Nanosensor-Cellphone Integration for Extended Chemical Sensing Network

“This technology enhances our ability to recognize what the chemical is and give users a location and that information can be vetted out to area partners to determine how to mitigate the problem,” Rose said. “There now are new ways to leverage technology to … improve the safety of the community at large.”