One out of every 12 people in the U.S. have asthma, and the number of people diagnosed with the chronic and sometimes fatal disease grows each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma attacks can be triggered by a variety of inhaled substances, from natural sources including pollen and pet dander as well as chemical compounds such as household cleaners and air pollution. To help people with asthma identify and avoid the chemical irritants that cause asthma attacks, AT&T labs researchers are developing a sensor that can sniff the air for known asthma triggers.
“Everybody’s triggers are different,” says Bob Miller, head of communications technology research at AT&T Labs in Florham Park, New Jersey. Miller’s group has built a prototype of a portable sensor that can detect volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that may be found in homes. Carpets, fragrances, smoke, and cleaners can all emit asthma-inducing VOCs. The room-monitoring device will wirelessly connect to online health networks where doctors and patients can look for clues in data collected over time.