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Will your next smartphone take a baby's temperature?

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November 14, 2012

Taking a child's temperature could be as easy as scanning a barcode (baby: Shutterstock, p...

Taking a child's temperature could be as easy as scanning a barcode (baby: Shutterstock, phone: Shutterstock)

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Is smartphone evolution at a standstill? Today's batch of phones have ultra-sharp displays, zippy performance, and great cameras. What's left? One man hopes that the next big thing will be infrared sensors.

Taking children's temperatures can be a pain. No matter which orifice you stick the thermometer in, the kid will probably pitch a fit. With so much of our tech being airborne, why not add thermometers to the list?

Inventor Jacob Fraden has patented the smartphone thermometer. He wants manufacturers to equip phones with infrared sensors. You could then aim at your little one's head, and have her temperature in less than a second.

New doors

The infrared sensor could quickly take a sleeping baby's temperature

Temperature-taking wouldn't be limited to humans. You could use it on pets (another pesky chore), or inanimate objects like stoves or bathtubs.

It sounds promising. The small infrared lens would lie near the smartphone's camera, without any protrusions. Fraden says that results are accurate, falling within International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards. He adds that the manufacturing cost would be "incremental."

Imagine the other uses for a smartphone infrared sensor. We could see apps for detecting gas leaks, home security (infrared tripwires), or even breathalyzer alcohol tests. These weren't covered by Fraden's patent, but once the hardware is there, developers' imaginations could go wild.

Not so fast

Smartphone manufacturers would have to sacrifice precious internal space

Fraden is pitching his innovation to smartphone manufacturers, but that's far from a guarantee that we'll see this. How many patents are granted for technology that never sees the light of day?

It's also possible that we will have infrared smartphones, but Fraden's thermometer patents won't be necessary. Apple already has an infrared smartphone patent, and you can buy third-party IR add-ons.

There are other costs. At 5 mm wide and 5 mm deep, the sensor would take up precious internal space. Light and thin is sexier than a thermometer, so you can imagine where most smartphone makers' priorities would lie.

Wait and see

Still, with the list of obvious smartphone upgrades dwindling, we'd be surprised if somebody didn't license Fraden's innovation ... whether it will be in a phone that you'd want is another question. New parents, however, may already be waiting in line.

Source: Fraden Corporation

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
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9 Comments

A perfect example of what is wrong with the patent system.

A patent should never be granted for an idea whose implementation is obvious to a skilled engineer in the field.

This one trivially is.

speedevil
14th November, 2012 @ 02:45 pm PST

Good article Will.

However, it is not correct in one point: "Fraden's thermometer patents won't be necessary". In fact, it is necessary. The Apple patent application (not patent!) that you mentioned, at best will work in the near infrared spectral range that is not suitable for temperature measurements. You need a separate far-infrared sensor - not covered by the Apple application.

Jack Othert
14th November, 2012 @ 02:51 pm PST

Speedevil, you are correct in one sense - the patent system needs an improvement for sure. Yet, here is an important point. You can't patent a bare idea of a product. You may patent a solution for an idea.

Hence, if it's obvious to everybody that a thermometer inside a phone is a good idea, it is not trivial to put it there and make accurate. Otherwise, everybody would already have it. That's what the patent covers - a practical solution that makes it work.

Jack Othert
14th November, 2012 @ 04:23 pm PST

Jack Othert,

You're mistaken. Patents have nothing to do with practicality. You don't have to prove anything works at all in order to get a patent. Why do you think so many perpetual motion machines have been patented over the years? You just need two things: it needs to be unobvious and novel.

As for this, it would be a waste of effort and material. I have an infrared thermometer. Aside from occasional uses at work, I rarely take it out of my bag. Most people wouldn't have much of a use for one.

Gadgeteer
14th November, 2012 @ 05:31 pm PST

I agree wholeheartedly with speedevil.

It is an absolute nonsense to be able to patent the idea of putting a non-contact temperature sensor in a phone. Of course, prior publication (aka defensive publication ) invalidates a patent. So I hereby declare as my ideas:

* Infrared blood oxygen sensor in a phone

* Blood pressure meter in a phone

* Altimeter in a phone

* Barometer in a phone

(Some duplication here, but best to be safe)

* Ultrasonic ranging device in a phone (trivial if the speaker and microphone have sufficient frequency response)

* Strain gauge in a phone (for weighing stuff). Could be integrated in the screen or maybe even use the same printed conductors.

* Oscilloscope in a phone

* Blood glucose measurement in a phone

* Pulse rate monitor in a phone

There! Now nobody can patent those ideas. I have saved the world from Apple and bankrupted the legal "profession".

splatman
14th November, 2012 @ 09:56 pm PST

Apple has this already tied up forever. Thay have a patent on babies.

Dale Griggs
15th November, 2012 @ 09:40 am PST

Dear gadgeteer and splatman, of course you are correct - a patent application doesn't require proof of work and that's why so many patents are just garbage. On the other hand, you can't claim a packaging idea - putting a blood pressure machine into a cell phone, e.g. You must give a solution - a patent office will not grant a patent if it's just a common packaging. There must be a synergy between both devices.

There a many patents covering a thermometer in a cell phone – so far nothing on the market. Why? Either nobody needs it or these patents are not practical.

Initially, cell the phone producers ridiculed a camera in a cell phone. Now it’s an essential components. If one would have a super-compact (no external attachments!) IR thermometer in a cell phone – I am sure 25 million parents in the US alone and many medical professionals would be happy not to carry around a thermometer whenever they need it. I am sure you don’t use a camera daily, but when you need it – great having on a phone. It appears that the patent of this post is a serious practical solution – it came from a man who invented the ear thermometer, a very popular device. I read the patent and it looks solid, nut a “common roof” idea.

Jack Othert
15th November, 2012 @ 10:26 am PST

It won't work! There is a reason one puts the thermometer in the butt for babies and under the tongue with adults as opposed holding it to the forehead and measuring skin temp. That's because the surface of the skin is not the same but lower than core temp'. Because of that and depending how dilated blood vessels are at the time of a reading the temp' of the skin surface can give different readings even with the same core temp'. It cannot be used to measure the internal body temp' reliably. The concept was not thoroughly thought through.

offthegrid
16th November, 2012 @ 02:29 pm PST

Patenting it will guarantee nobody will incorporate it for 20 years (until the patent runs out). And yes - sounds too obvious to patent, so maybe his patent will get chucked out.

@splatman bad luck - they changed the rules - prior art needs to be at least 1 year older than the patent application date: you've just given the trolls a stack of new ideas that they can now patent :-)

Now, the bleeding obvious of course, sick babies can die. No smartphone is going to add technology that's going to see them land in court defending dead baby lawsuits!!!!

christopher
17th November, 2012 @ 03:51 pm PST
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