Scorched Toast Or A Fire? Oak Ridge Scientists Design ‘Smart’ Smoke Detector

'Nuisance alarms' lead many people to disable their smoke detectors by whatever means they can devise. At the same time, the National Fire Protection Association says two-thirds of deaths by fire could have been prevented by a working alarm. Credit: Katy Warner via Flickr

‘Nuisance alarms’ lead many people to disable their smoke detectors by whatever means they can devise. At the same time, the National Fire Protection Association says two-thirds of deaths by fire could have been prevented by a working alarm. Credit: Katy Warner via Flickr

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory say they’ve developed a new kind of household smoke detector. The lab was charged with making a device smart enough to tell the difference between a dangerous fire and badly burnt popcorn.

The US Fire Administration commissioned the project in part because too many take the batteries out of their alarms altogether rather than risk hearing a siren every time they fry up some bacon.

Researcher Bruce Warmack says that happens because traditional detectors only sense smoke particles in the air. The new design also checks for things like temperature. With multiple sensors, more data, and tiny computers, Warmack says the new devices are also more effective.

“Some fires can be sensed much faster than in conventional smoke alarms. In some cases, we’ve seen this occur as much as 20 or 30 minutes sooner.”

Warmack’s team designed the detectors as a way of showing what could be done. But as of yet, no companies are making the new kind of alarms for the public market.

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