A startup named Mobile Physics is spearheading a technological breakthrough that could equip future smartphones with the capability to detect air quality and smoke levels, providing users with crucial alerts about potentially hazardous conditions. Qualcomm and STMicroelectronics are collaborating to embed this innovation in an upcoming Android phone platform.

Why It Matters

Air pollution has emerged as an increasingly pressing health concern, especially with the changing climate:

  • Wildfires, growing in intensity, are adversely impacting air quality in various regions, including the United States.
  • Events like last summer’s eerie orange skies highlight the growing need for awareness about dangerous toxin levels in the environment.

How It Works

Mobile Physics, supported by Oracle founder Larry Ellison, has developed technology to transform any cellphone into a personal “envirometer” and weather station. The system utilizes a phone’s existing sensors to measure air quality, smoke levels, temperature, and UV exposure. When worrisome conditions are detected, it promptly alerts the user, effectively operating as an ever-vigilant smoke detector and fire alarm in the background.

Erez Weinroth, an environmental scientist and co-founder of Mobile Physics, explains, “If the levels are hazardous, you will have a pop-up that says, ‘Levels are high, maybe open the window.'” It may also provide recommendations, such as closing a window, activating an indoor air purifier, seeking shade, or wearing a mask.

Current Status

Mobile Physics’ air quality monitoring system has been integrated into Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 mobile processor, utilizing STMicroelectronics’s direct time-of-flight (dToF) sensors. These sensors, which use light to measure distance, can detect small particulate matter. Leading phone manufacturers like Samsung, Google, and Xiaomi have expressed interest in adopting this technology.

Stanford University professor Roger Kornberg, Chairman of Mobile Physics and a Nobel Prize laureate in Chemistry, predicts, “By sometime next year, you’ll have the option of buying a phone with this capability preinstalled.”

The Impact of Air Pollution

Air pollution is a grave concern, causing nearly 7 million premature deaths annually according to the World Health Organization. While current phones can display air quality and smoke data from nearby weather stations, the most significant source of concern often originates within homes, from activities like cooking, vacuuming, and hair drying.

A Valuable Data Resource

Mobile Physics envisions a future where millions of cellphones anonymously collect environmental data, forming a database that can be analyzed and leveraged. Governments, health authorities, insurance companies, and others could benefit from this valuable information. Users will have the option to opt out of data collection.

The Future of “Envirometer” Phones

Mobile Physics plans to introduce a subscription version with additional tiers of information, including historical exposure levels and comparisons with others in the same city. This data could be invaluable, especially for individuals with respiratory conditions.

In conclusion, smartphones with air quality and smoke detection capabilities may soon become commonplace. This innovation holds the promise of enhancing individual well-being and safety while contributing to a collective effort to address environmental challenges.

By Impact Lab