A smartphone with an integrated non-contact thermometer could have many uses at home and work, its inventor has claimed.
An American company has been awarded a US patent for a smartphone with a built-in infrared detector which would work with the device's camera and pattern-recognition software to provide clinically accurate temperature readings.
The important thing with non-contact thermometers is to find the right place on the target surface and the optimal distance from there to the sensor, said co-inventor Dr Jacob Fraden, who also invented the Braun ThermoScan ear thermometer and is now seeking to licence this latest patent.
His idea is to use place a 2.5mm IR sensor alongside the phone camera. Pattern recognition software would use the camera to identify facial landmarks such as eyebrows, nose and ears, then use these to guide the user to hold the device at the right distance above a spot that is known to provide good temperature measurements.
With more sophisticated multi-pixel IR sensors, the software could even locate the optimum spot automatically. The same technology could be used for inanimate objects too, combining the IR field of view with a digital photo, Fraden said.
The patent also describes measuring ultraviolet radiation, for example to warn of potential overexposure while sunbathing, and using the phone's existing antenna to measure low- and radio-frequency electromagnetic pollution.
Non-contact thermometers are already popular with concerned parents, cooks, professional energy assessors and many others, so there is clearly a potential market for a smartphone with one built-in. Should it be patentable, though, when it seems so obvious a combination? Many might argue not – although if no-one has made one yet, then perhaps it wasn't so obvious.