Smartphones as Diagnosticians: Displays that Analyze Bodily Fluids

by Matt Klassen on July 18, 2014

As weird as it sounds there might come a time in the not-so-distant future where smartphones will assume yet another dominant role in our lives: health care diagnostician. While likely unable to fully replace a doctor, new developments in smart glass technology will allow a smartphone to analyze fluids on its surface, meaning all you would have to do to diagnose that gross green phlegm you just coughed up is to simply spit it on your screen.

A research group based out of Polytechnique Montreal, in collaboration with glass maker Corning, has made significant strides in making such biological analysis features a reality for mobile devices, creating a reliable way for lasers to analyse fluids on the display surface.

Disgusting to be sure, there nevertheless stands an almost an endless amount of applications for such analysis mobile technology, allowing mobile gadgets to further broaden their usefulness in medicine, personal security, law enforcement, food creation and analysis, environmental analysis, and, of course, fitness applications (just to name a few). Let’s just hope these smartphones of the future come with disinfecting wipes.

While a smartphone with biological analysis tools certainly seems like a next generation mobile feature, it’s actually based on technology that’s been around for several decades already, but only recently has garnered attention for its technological applications. Researchers have long known that they can shoot lasers into glass to create “tiny embedded pathways — called waveguides” that can be used to transmit information; the problem has been that the method is inexact, as waveguides leak out too much light to be able to render a reliable analysis result.

The achievement of the Montreal-based research group is to limit this “leakage,” creating a waveguide system on a smartphone display that is 10 times better a containing the light, meaning the lasers can better analyze the specimen on the glass.

The technology is still in its infancy, as the group has only been able to use this method for creating some very basic analysis tools, but the future applications, should progress in this field continue, are boundless. “We’re just at the beginning,” said Alan Evans, an optical-physics research director atCorning. “We can dream up all this stuff, but we need that market confirmation to say, ‘Yup, that really does solve a problem.’”

Not only biological analysis, such waveguide technology could have applications for mobile security, and even in creating futuristic see-through electronics as well.

This development of laser technology would not only be a boon for the smartphone industry as a whole, opening up an entirely new niche for software developers, but Corning stands to gain as well, as the company known for its unbreakable display glass would cement its place in the mobile world for years to come. But of course before that can happen, a great deal of progress still needs to be made.

Needless to say, beyond the necessity of actually solving the science behind this burgeoning technology there also exists the very real issue of convincing people that they’ll need to start spitting on their phone…although given most of our current levels of frustration with our mobile devices, perhaps it won’t take much urging at all.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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