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MWC 2015: One day, your phone could have an electronic nose that smells diseases

This sensor could have your gadgets sniffing out everything from alcohol to diabetes

There’s more to MWC than smartphones, tablets and ultrasonic fingerprint scanners. For example, we’ve just witnessed a device accurately identify the smell of an orange.

Developed by BoydSense, the electronic nose (as we’re calling it), is a prototype sensor which is able to ‘smell’ and analyse molecules in the air.

The sensor itself is comprised of a sensitive layer, and its resistance changes when it comes into contact with molecules present in gas. Different molecules inflict different levels of resistance, leaving behind a unique footprint, which is then recognised by the accompanying software’s algorithms.

While these sensors have already existed for quite some time, this new prototype is portable enough to slip into your pocket, and the ultimate aim is to create one that’s small enough and efficient enough to fit inside smartphones and wearables. It also has the potential to be even more powerful, to the point where it could even let you know if you’re ill, simply by breathing on it.

While its already capable of detecting ethanol in the breath (making it a handy breathalyser), it could be capable of sniffing out medical conditions too.

It is, for example, possible to detect diabetes by measuring the level of acetone (a by-product of the condition) in a person’s breath when they exhale on the sensor.

If BoydSense manages to shrink down a sensor powerful enough to diagnose medical conditions like diabetes or even certain types of cancer, then we could see future smartphones and wearables have a big role in early detection. We’ve still got a fair way to go before we hit that scenario, but we’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more developments, so stay tuned.