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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 09:10 GMT 10:10 UK
High hopes for smoke alarm mobile
Mobile phone
Your mobile could alert you to gases or smoke
A smoke detecting mobile could help save hundreds of lives, say the inventors behind the idea.

The mobile phone would have a battery with sensors in it that check changes in the atmosphere.

The sensors pick up and compare data, alerting the owner if there are any worrying changes.

The Romanian inventors, Marian Gavrila and Garbriel Patulea, say the system could help save hundreds of lives if it is built into mobiles.

Raising the alarm

They thought of the idea after hearing about a fatal train accident in France, in which a train travelling between Paris and Vienna caught fire.

"It continued to travel for almost two hours without the train engineer being aware what was going on in his train," Mr Gavrila told BBC News Online.

We thought we would just be able to modify an existing device, but without the support of the manufacturer, it is almost impossible
Marian Gavrila
"A single cell phone provided with a simple smoke detector could have saved tens of lives."

The sensors can pick up on smoke, but also other toxic gases in the atmosphere like methane and carbon monoxide, according to the Romanian inventors who are based in Canada.

Information about the environment is monitored and checked against data about safe levels by the mobile.

If the sensors spot a change, an alert could be sounded, either by sound or flashing light. It could also be programmed to send a distress signal automatically to emergency services.

Such a device could bypass the problem of absent or faulty smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in homes.

Many deaths are caused because people forget to change the batteries in their detectors, but most make sure their mobiles are charged.

Sensor technology

However, it could be limited to non-industrial use only. In many places where there is a risk of exposure to flammable gases like methane, the use of electronic devices like mobiles is banned because they are potential sources of ignition.

The phones need to be made "intrinsically safe" to be allowed in these environments, which is costly, a Health and Safety Executive spokesperson said.

Fire fighters tackling a blaze
People often forget to replace smoke detector batteries
Mr Gavrila and Mr Patulea are in the process of registering the idea internationally with the Canadian Patents Office and hope mobile device makers will help them out with a prototype.

Problems over software and protocols means they need to work with the mobile industry, says Mr Gavrila.

"We thought we would just be able to modify an existing device, but without the support of the manufacturer, it is almost impossible," said Mr Gavrila.

They have already approached mobile giants Motorola, Nokia, Siemens and Sony Ericsson about the idea.

A spokesperson from Nokia said their research groups have quite a lot of projects going on in this area.

"They are working on sensor technology which we believe will play an important role in creating interactive, intelligent, context-aware mobiles," a spokesperson for Nokia said.

But they were unable to comment on Mr Gavrila and Mr Patulea's specific device or their own.

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