Tech. Science. Culture.
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Early Warning Fire Alarm Detects the Telltale Gases That Precede Smoke

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

A well-maintained smoke detector is a must for every home, but often, smoke isn’t the first byproduct of a smoldering fire. So researchers have developed a new kind of fire alarm that detects carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide instead, to identify fires at an earlier stage.

The new sensors work by shining blue LED light through a special dye and onto a special optical detector. When a fire first starts, carbon monoxide is released which causes that dye to glow with a different color. That change in color is then immediately detected by the optical detector and the alarm sounds. The same goes for nitrogen oxide which usually follows the release of carbon monoxide during a fire.

The smallest amount of either gas in the air will trigger the alarm’s sensors, and that means that homeowners have more time to escape before smoke starts to billow making it difficult to see and breathe.


The researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM in Freiburg, Germany, have also ensured that the technology developed for the new gas sensors remains affordable by using the same mass-produced components already found in existing smoke detectors. The extra optical components might add a few extra bucks to the price tag, but that’s hardly an issue when the detectors could give your family more time to escape a fire unharmed.

[Fraunhofer Institute]