Steve Jobs was a visionary, but could he have foreseen this?

Smartphones will soon become mobile laboratories which can monitor bone density, calculate red blood cell levels and even predict if an asthma attack is imminent.

Scientists are repurposing the technology which already exists within phones, such as accelerometers, camera flashes and microphones to use as medical tools.

Professor Shwetak Patel, of the University of Washington is currently devising an app which can detect red blood cell levels simply by placing a finger over the camera and flash, so that a bright beam of light shines through the skin. Such a blood screening tool could quickly spot anaemia.

He also believes that in future users will be able to bang phones against their bones to check for osteoporosis and use the microphone to test lung function.

“You can do pulmonary assessment using the microphone on a mobile device, for diagnosing asthma. If think about people having an asthma attack, if you could monitor their lung function at home you can actually get in front of that, before somebody has an asthma attack.”

“If you think about the arm is just a rigid surface and if there is a hollowing of the bone or a reduction in density which is osteoporosis, that frequency changes,” added Prof Patel. “It’s like taking a pitchfork and you hitting it and it has some frequency and pitch to it and if you were to hollow it out that frequency changes.

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