All Sections

Your future phone will diagnose illness and detect pregnancy

German boffins have put together a smartphone sensor which can test you for medical conditions and even tell you if you’re up the duff.

Just last week we reported on the Hoope ring, which amazingly allows wearers to diagnose themselves with common STDs, sparing a trip to the clinic. Now researchers at Hanover University’s Centre for Optical Technologies have developed a nifty fibre-optic sensor for smartphones which can perform a number of biomolecular tests, such as detecting pregnancy or keeping tabs on diabetes.

This sensor, which can monitor human sweat, saliva, blood, urine and even breath, chucks out its findings in real-time via a companion app. In time, this could allow us to keep tabs on chronic illnesses and check for others simply by picking up a smartphone, meaning more diseases are caught rather than left unchecked.

Other applications for the sensor include linking to a device’s GPS, to direct you to the nearest doctor’s surgery or hospital, or even to allow an ambulance to locate someone in distress when the medical issue is deemed acute.

An optical phenomenon called surface plasmon resonance is used by the sensor, which is when light oscillates around electrons on a metallic surface in contact with a fluid. The sensor is able to pick up on different conditions by judging the way oscillation takes place, a bit like a person being able to detect a foreign body in a pool of water by waving their hand back and forth and watching how the liquid reacts to what’s around it.

Ordinarily it would take dedicated medical equipment to conduct these tests, which is both expensive and time consuming, but so far the team’s tiny sensor has thrown up results on a par with lab-based kit, giving medical professionals the ability to carry out tests in the field and treat and diagnose people in a fraction of the time currently required.

The sensor is still in development and isn’t likely to be hitting the next Samsung Galaxy handset or iPhone 6s, but in time we could come to rely on our smartphones as much more than communication devices and entertainment machines, and perhaps our portable pals could even save our life.

Comments