The National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL) has developed a nanochip that can detect a variety of toxins and pollutants to help prevent gas explosions or poisoning.
The NARL spent two years developing the nano gas sensing chip, which is small enough to be fitted in a smartphone, watch or other wearable devices, and can detect carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde, researcher Hsueh Ting-jen (薛丁仁) told a news conference in Taipei.
Following the Kaohsiung gas pipeline explosions in 2014 — which killed 32 people and injured 321 — the NARL began developing a chip that can turn smartphones and smartwatches into portable gas detectors to help improve public safety and government response.
“Smartphones installed with the chip can issue a warning when they detect a gas leak or unhealthy levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogenic material commonly used to produce paints and coatings, Hsueh said.
“The chip can also be used to perform breath tests for alcohol, detect carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide levels, and monitor air quality,” he added.
Data collected by individual smartphones can be uploaded to fire departments and hospitals, and collectively processed to prompt emergency responses, he said.
The chip, which is smaller than a grain of rice, is made with nanoparticle and nano-pore forming technology to create a thin sensing film that has a large exposure area and is highly accurate, Hsueh said.
It can resist temperatures of up to 250°C, and uses different metals to recognize different types of gases.
Commercially available gas sensors are generally palm-sized, can only be installed in a fixed position and are usually designed to detect only one type of gas, with each sensor costing hundreds of New Taiwan dollars.
While new detectors smaller than 1cm have been introduced to the market, they lack the accuracy to detect different gases and are still too large to be integrated into smartphones, Hsueh said.
The cost of one chip is only about one-sixth that of a gas sensor on the market, the NARL said.
The NARL plans to transfer the technology to a local LED manufacturer for modular programming to be used in smartphones, it said.
It is estimated that the market for gas detectors would grow to US$2 billion by 2021, while global production would increase from 1.2 million to 350 million units, the NARL said.
NARL president Lo Ching-hua (羅清華) said that the chip could also be installed in vehicles to prevent people whose alcohol levels exceed legal limits from starting their cars.
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