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The Apple Watch has been credited with saving numerous lives as a result of its advanced health and heart monitoring features and the ability for users to quickly access emergency services, and Apple continues to aggressively expand the number of personal safety features incorporated into the wearable device, most recently adding fall detection and an ECG feature that can detect atrial fibrillation to the Apple Watch Series 4.
Now it looks like Apple may have plans to expand the wearable device’s safety features into monitoring the quality of the air around us. According to a new patent discovery by Patently Apple, the company is looking at ways to incorporate a carbon monoxide (CO) detector into future Apple Watch and iPhone devices to notify users when they may be in a dangerous environment.
The patent outlines how Apple would actually create an entirely new design for a miniature gas sensor that could withstand the rigors of use on a mobile device. The design includes improvements in stability over existing sensors, along with better resistance to poisoning, contamination, and signal interference by removing chemically poisonous elements that can damage the sensor over time from the incoming gas stream.
Carbon monoxide is one of the most dangerous gases that people will typically come across, as it’s produced as a byproduct of burning the fuels that are used in most home heating and gasoline powered equipment, ranging from furnaces and space heaters to fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, and automobile exhaust fumes. Properly designed heating appliances will vent carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, but leaks, blockages, and malfunctions can cause a build-up of the gas, which is odourless, tasteless, and invisible, making it a deadly, silent killer that affects thousands of people each year.
Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.U.S. Center for Disease Control
Although many users already have CO detectors and alarms in their homes — most modern smoke detectors also include CO detection — there are many other environments where carbon monoxide can be present, so incorporating a sensor into a wearable device has definite life-saving potential.
Further, it seems likely that Apple’s implementation would also provide a way to monitor current CO levels, rather than just sounding an alert when they reach the danger zone. Such a feature would have additional health benefits, as carbon monoxide is often present in many environments at levels that, while not fatal, can certainly cause other health problems, such as fatigue, respiratory issues and headaches, particularly for people with other conditions such as heart disease. Such an approach would be well in line with Apple’s overall focus on improving health and well-being, rather than just offering emergency response features.
The details of the patent also suggest that Apple’s sensor would go beyond carbon monoxide into a wider range of poisonous and noxious gases, citing others such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen monoxide (NO), sulfer dioxide (SO2), methane (CH4), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This would allow the Apple Watch to act as a general air quality sensor as well — something that’s quite common among HomeKit devices, but would be a first for a multi-function wearable device.
Apple’s patent application also includes the possibility of incorporating the sensors into the iPhone, and a separate application discovered by Patently Apple adds MacBooks to the list of Apple products that could use its proposed miniature gas sensors. As with all Apple patents, of course, this idea is likely in the very preliminary stages, and in fact may not ever make it into an actual product, but it definitely seems like a good fit for Apple’s focus on health and safety in its mobile devices.