How is a Pit Viper Like an iPhone?

As collectors of natural-history trivia know, the pit viper’s pit is not the one it lives in, but the directional infrared-sensing dimple between its eye and nostril. If snakes can do it, why shouldn’t my smartphone?

Jacob Fraden and David Pintsov have patented (and are looking for licensees for) their new scanning IR device. This 2.5-mm IR sensor is built into the phone next to the digital camera and can measure temperatures from -30 C to about 200 C—and measure them accurately enough for clinical use.

The prolific Fraden, founder of Fraden Corporation, invented the ThermoScan Ear Thermometer. From a kid's perspective, that innovation was bad enough, when it came to faking a fever to stay home from school by rubbing the thermometer between the sheets, or, if closely watched, rubbing it against your teeth (no, mom, I'm a journalist, of course I never did this myself). Now it looks as though the new device finishes the job, with a point-and-shoot thermometer that takes less than a second to tell your mother that you’re malingering.

The device’s quick response, “minimal incremental cost,” digital-image targeting, and wide range make it useful for also gauging the temperatures of engine parts, of roasting turkeys, and of the babies’ bathwater. (So that’s one more component of the Star Trek Tricorder ticked off the checklist. Maybe someone really will claim the Tricorder X Prize  by producing a working prototype of the all-purpose medicomagical gadget by the end of 2015.)

Images: Fraden Corp.

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