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According to a patent granted to Apple on Tuesday, iPhones, iPads and other branded equipment could one day sport onboard smoke detection hardware to alert users, and interested parties, of a potentially dangerous situation.
Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,123,221 for "Wireless device networks with smoke detection capabilities," as issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, sounds a lot like similar network-connected products like Nest's Protect. However, the solution described by Apple offers a number of benefits over today's fixed location setups, advantages that would make iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch and other devices personal, portable fire safety systems.
As part of a networked system, an iOS device would be outfitted with a sensor suite similar to light-based or ionizing smoke detectors commonly found in hardware stores, but shrunken down to fit within a handheld chassis. Some embodiments call on more traditional sensors, like an iPhone's camera, to pull double duty as smoke detection devices.
In practice, smoke would need to enter a monitoring device to be detected, so an installed sensor array must therefore be positioned near a speaker port or other small opening. Apple doesn't limit potential applications to portables, but includes embodiments covering Wi-Fi routers, MacBooks, desktop PCs and even Apple TV.
When the system does detect smoke, underlying control software is triggered to notify the device owner, activate a fire suppression system or perform other suitable tasks. Authorities might also be alerted to the emergency via messages sent by a device's communications capabilities. Information can also be transmitted regarding house address, building layout, individual device location and more.
Another embodiment monitors user presence, or whether a device owner is nearby when smoke is detected. This information, along with temperature, motion and location data, can play an important role in directing firefighters to building occupants or remotely notifying home owners of a fire.
There are no clear plans for Apple to incorporate smoke detection technology into a next-generation iOS device, though the company is becoming a more aggressive player in the home automation space. Perhaps offering a hint as to Apple's ambitions, today's patent grant includes claim modifications to an application published last November. Specifically, all major claims now refer to a "cellular phone" rather than an "electronic device."
Apple's smoke detector patent was first filed for in May 2013 and credits Paul G. Puskarich as its inventor.