Pandemic Alert! Could a Cough Detector Be the Future of Airport Security?

DiscoblogBy Boonsri DickinsonFeb 3, 2009 2:58 AM


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In the near future, every American will have a digital avatar made with real life census data, to help predict the spread of infectious diseases. But what about when we’re traveling? Jared Diamond holds that air travel can hastened the spread of pandemics all over the world. Enter a Belgian company called Biorics , which has developed a device that can reportedly enable airport security to tell whether someone is carrying a pandemic virus by the sound of their cough. The company's plan is to place multiple microphones in the waiting areas of airports, and then process the sound to get rid of background noise. By singling out cough sounds from regular cell phone conversations and airport chatter, the device can supposedly tell if a person is just clearing their throat, or if they have a cough that indicates they are infected with a virus. The loudness of the cough would help authorities locate the sick person. The idea has some merit: It’s quick and simple, and could potentially prevent substantial harms. Of course, if the detector makes a mistake, you might find yourself quarantined at JFK after choking on a bottle of water. Also, in addition to the expense it would take to run and monitor these machines, who’s to stop authorities from using them to eavesdrop on your cell phone conversations? As we mentioned with the I-can-see-through-your-clothes machine, there will always be privacy issues when it comes to invasive security devices. Related Content: DISCOVER: Jared Diamond Predicts The Next Pandemic. DISCOVER: What Happened to The Avian Flu? DISCOVER: All Flus Lead to Asia DISCOVER: The Science of Avian Flu

Image: flickr/ Ron Layters

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