Meet the electronic nose that sniffs out danger

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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