Your Next Phone May be Able to Smell You (and Your Diseases)

By Gerald Lynch on at

Sensor-laden smartphones can already track our heart rates and fitness levels, and are even equipped with cameras so powerful they can identify problems with our eyes. What's next for the mobile doctor? Potentially, the ability to identify diseases based on a user's breath.

Start-up company BoydSense is developing “the first multi-bio sensing platform of its kind”, which could makes its way into smartphones and help users make health and wellness decisions ahead of seeking professional diagnoses.

Working alongside Alpha MOS, a company with twenty years experience in sensory analytics, the BoydSense sensor will identify bio-signatures (that's smells to you and me), picking up minute details in environmental gas levels that you exhale and identify potential problems that are associated with the reading.

Using an off-the-shelf sensor as a proof of concept, BoydSense CEO Bruno Thuillier showed me a demo in which it was possible for a mobile device to identify between the smells of an orange and vanilla extract. Though Thuillier couldn't disclose any names, several recognisable major phone companies are said to have showed an interest in BoydSense's work.

Illness spotting is only one small potential use for the sensor however, and not necessarily its immediate application. Thuillier anticipates it potentially being used to identify perishing foods (adding longer sell-by dates to a wasteful food retail industry) or being used as an air-quality sensor (and potential auxiliary smoke detector). When I asked him about its potential as a crime investigation tool (think a sniffer-dog in your pocket), Thuillier said it was a possibility, as well as holding possible novelty functions – imagine if Tinder could warn you that your breath smelt before heading off to meet your date?

Still in the development stages, BoydSense hopes to have its sensor in a device by 2016, be that inside a smartphone, wearable or other “mobile” device.

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