Toxic gas sensors in Apple iPhone’s future?

Apple One Link Smoke and CO alarm
Apple is developing iPhone-embedded toxic gas detectors that could increase the utility of their Home Kit-enabled safety devices. (Apple Insider)

When one associates Apple with sensors, thoughts immediately turn to the image sensors used in the iPhone or iPad camera or the location sensors used in these devices to track where the user is. But Apple has also been doing research on developing iPhone-embedded poisonous gas sensors and is busy trying to patent technology for calibrating these sensors and lengthening their life.

In an article appearing on the site of Apple Insider, the consumer electronics giant says it has expanded a patent application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office related to poisonous gas sensors. The company’s latest patent application covers the work titled "gas sensor baseline correction using multiple co-located gas sensors" but also delves into ways that Apple can maintain the accuracy of minute sensors. 

Under the patent proposal, Apple's granular metal oxide semiconductor material sensor could be used to detect multiple common gases. As the resistance increases in the plates, iPhone software could calculate the target gas concentration and pop up a warning for the user. 

According to the Apple Insider article, the expanded patent gives details on pairing dual sensors with the heating elements and comparing the results from both. Over time, the results of both sensors will be compared, and hardware/software could mathematically correct for any drift caused by exposure or use.

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The article also quoted Apple as proposing housing the sensor in an enclosure, with multiple adsorbent layers lining the casing’s interior. The multiple adsorbent layer could selectively filter target gases, with different layers responsible for sensing different environmental toxins.

Apple is also reportedly considering adding a second set of heating elements to the enclosure to control gas flow. Depending on the on-off state of the elements, the system could be set to allow the gases to either dissipate around the sensor or help a "regeneration operation" take place. 

According to Apple Insider, Apple envisions creating small, easy-to-integrate gas sensors that would allow toxic gas monitoring not just in a home, but anywhere portable gas monitoring might be desirable. In addition, the layer-cake design of the sensor substrate could allow one element to sense multiple gases, instead of the single-gas detectors currently available. 

The sensors could increase use of Apple HomeKit safety devices. Sensors coupled with HomeKit technology could be used to warn homeowners of a gas leak or other hazardous conditions while they away from home.

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