New technology means your smartphone could soon check for Covid-19, flu or colds

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Your phone or smartwatch could soon be able to tell you whether your sniffle is a result of Covid-19, flu, or just a common cold.

New research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) Department of Electronic Systems may be bad news for sufferers of 'man flu' or kids hoping to miss school as it can tell the rest of us whether they're just feeling lousy or are seriously ill.

The NTNU team have developed a super-sensitive optical sensor, called the whispering gallery mode microresonator, which can analyse chemicals using the infrared light spectrum.

This opens up the possibility of gadgets that can use this technology to analyse gas or fluid samples to check for the chemicals that indicate the presence of certain viruses and bacteria - informing you of the cause of your illness.

Lead researcher Dingding Ren said the microresonator is "100 times" better than previous sensors. Even though the technology is at an "initial stage", devices using it will be able to conduct detailed chemical analysis in the "near future".

Similar technology already exists at a larger scale - but machines that can use infrared light in this way to identify complex chemicals are so big and expensive that they are mainly found in hospitals and big-budget institutions. Smaller machines can only identify a few chemicals in a sample, so are useless for finding out what that virus is bugging you.

The key to miniaturising the technology has been the microresonator, which is made of geranium and takes its name from an unusual phenomenon found at The Whispering Gallery at St Paul's Cathedral in London. Just as the shape of the Gallery amplifies sound waves, Ren's microresonator amplifies infrared light - meaning complex analysis can be conducted on a tiny device.

This means that in the not-too-distant future, you could not just be using your smartphone to check the weather or train delays - but whether that cough or cold is nothing to worry about, or whether you really are deserving of your partner or parent's sympathy.