A composite photo of a cell phone equipped with an infrared camera – it’s just a matter of design, not technology, says Dr. Nizan Yaniv.Imagine using your cell phone to take your temperature, see who’s lurking in the dark, or identify explosives in a package.

Sounds like science fiction? In fact, these functions – and many more – are possible once you have an infrared camera integrated into your cell phone. That sort of gadget may soon be available, thanks to an Israeli researcher who has demonstrated that it is already technologically feasible to build such a device.

In a joint study with the Israeli cellular communications operator Cellcom, Dr. Nizan Yaniv concluded in an article published in the latest Israeli edition of Scientific American that integrating an infrared digital camera into a cell phone “is indeed possible” and that there is no technological barrier to doing so.

Yaniv, a lecturer at the Holon Academic Institute of Technology (HAIT), has a US patent pending on such a device, and is now negotiating with two large international firms which have expressed interest in developing it.

Infrared cameras measure temperature and are used to ‘see in the dark.’ Originally, they were used primarily by the military and for space exploration. In recent years, regular cameras have been integrated into cell phones, while stationary infrared cameras have become digital and miniature, expanding their applications. Yaniv, an industrial designer, wondered whether these two trends could be combined in order to give the consumer a powerful tool for improving quality of life.

“The Cellcom engineers looked at whether the technical requirements of a compact infrared camera are such that you can already put it – ‘plug and play’ – into a cell phone. The answer was ‘Of course you can’ even though no one had thought of it before,” Yaniv told ISRAEL21c.

“It’s just a matter of design – not technology,” said Yaniv, whose previous invention, an award-winning cardiac monitor that can be integrated into a cell phone, is currently undergoing clinical testing in Israel.

Stationary infra-red cameras are already used today for locating missing people, making medical diagnoses and performing quality control checks in industry. They were widely used during the 2003 outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) to measure body temperature of passengers at airports, and are increasingly used in search and rescue operations to identify people lost in thick fog, smoke, heavy snow or debris. In industry, they can detect faults in parts.

Yaniv and the Cellcom team – which included Zvi Shachor, company vice-president and head of the research and technological innovation division, and Shalom Mualem of the same division – concluded that all of these functions could be transferred into a cell phone with a built-in infrared camera.

“You could take your temperature or check whether there is someone prowling in the dark – just by using your cell phone,” Yaniv said.

In addition, he maintains that such a device could be used for a myriad of other applications including early diagnoses of many medical conditions, cardiological examinations, rapid identification of infections in animals (a useful tool in the dairy industry ), identification of the source of leaks in apartment buildings, and detection of explosive materials by laymen.

“A doctor in the field can examine wounds using his cell phone or assess the condition of patients with heart disease, breast cancer, arthritis and other conditions,” wrote Yaniv in the Scientific American article. “The main barrier is one of perception. People think infrared is only for security uses and for security forces. But infrared cameras can be harnessed to enhance quality of life for the ordinary person.”

Nevertheless, Yaniv suggests that in the first state infrared cameras be integrated into the cell phones of rescue forces such as police, firefighter and medics. “This offers the possibility of immediate transmission of field reports to emergency centers, and prompt receipt of medical answers regarding people examined in the field,” he wrote.

Eventually, ordinary citizens would have an extra tool to spot security lapses. “An airport worker who suspects a problem in a plane can pull out his phone, examine the malfunction and report on it. Passengers could use their phones to identify explosive material – and report their findings to security personnel,” he said.

And the cost? According to Yaniv, it should be only about $100 more than what you pay for a regular cell phone today.

Yaniv is a founder of two Israeli start-ups: Laser-Phone, based on the infrared cellphone patent, and Biolapis, which implements medical sensors and therapeutic methods into mobile devices. He is a lecturer at HAIT’s newly-established Instructional Systems Technologies Department, the first degree-granting program in this field in Israel.