Detector Alerts Asthmatics to Nasty Air

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Asthmatics often feel like we're gambling, discovering triggers a breath too late. AT&T Labs recently developed a prototype for a device that can detect nasty air and alert us before things get bad.

Some asthma are blatant and obvious, and yet every once in a while I've been blindsided by an attack that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are a common asthma trigger found all over the place but they can be tricky to spot. AT&T Labs might have a solution.

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A prototype for a trigger detection device, led by head of communications technology research Bob Miller, can pick up on the presence of cleaning products, fragrances, smoke, and even troublesome carpet. Then the portable device can wirelessly transmit data to an online health network so my doctor could potentially spot patterns over time.

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Although the device hasn't been publicly named yet and there are no images available, AT&T Labs did indicate that it will contain a VOC sensor, a microcomputer, a battery and a Zigbee wireless modem. The VOC sensor contains a chip that is heated by a small current.

Talking to Technology Review's Susan Young, Miller said the device could prevent asthmatics from staying in a place where the trigger level is too high. Miller added that one day it might even be connected to a home network and automatically start up the furnace blower to clear the air.

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Asthma is so prevalent in the U.S. that one in every 12 Americans has it. Better prevention means fewer ER visits, fewer absences from school, fewer sick days from work. A device to prevent that first ominous wheeze could help us all breathe easier.

Credit: Jonathan Kos-Read