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Old 06-08-2019, 04:33 PM
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Should the government require cell phones to have radiation sensors?


Proposal: require by law that if commercially available sensors, below a certain size/power consumption and of reasonable cost (say $5, adjusted for inflation), can meet the requirements, all cell phone manufacturers must install the sensors for phones sold in the United States.

The basic requirements would be for :

(a) an accumulating sensor able to detect chronic radiation exposure to gamma rays sufficient to significantly raise cancer rates
(b) an immediate-term sensor, able to distinguish and alert the user for levels of radiation:
a. 50% fatal within about a month
b. 50% fatal within a day
c. 50% fatal within an hour

It can just peg after case c.

Precision would not be a major requirement, merely a 95% probability that the sensor shows an alert before the levels for a,b, and c are reached in a test lab.

Thought of this watching the HBO show Chernobyl. If the firefighter's all had phones, which would all go off with shrill warnings when they approached the reactor building, they would have survived. Similarly, people have died from radioactive isotopes hidden in chairs and radon in their basement and other secret sources.

The sensors, in 100 million unit volumes, would probably be quite affordable, but it's not a feature that a cell phone manufacturer individually be able to put in the phone since it provides the user no immediately tangible benefit.
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Old 06-08-2019, 04:37 PM
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Aside from the greatest nuclear disasters of our day, do any measurable fraction of cell phone users ever come into contact with lethal levels of radiation? Is there some crisis I haven't heard about? I could understanding having a big, ol' box of these kind of sensors by the entrance to every plant so emergency personnel could clip one on as they walked in the door, but I don't think somebody's aunt in Topeka needs this...
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Old 06-08-2019, 05:38 PM
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Originally Posted by SamuelA View Post
Thought of this watching the HBO show Chernobyl. If the firefighter's all had phones, which would all go off with shrill warnings when they approached the reactor building, they would have survived.
There's a major flaw in your reasoning here, the belief that had those firefighters received such a warning they would have refused to fight the fires. Some might have done that, but in past emergencies a certain number of people have displayed a willingness to give their lives to save others. Faced with a situation where in order to bring an out-of-control disaster under control there probably would have been some people who went ahead and sacrificed themselves for the common good.
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Old 06-08-2019, 05:58 PM
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Sounds like a solution in search of a problem to me. How often are people accidentally wandering into irradiated areas that we need to put Geiger counters in hundreds of millions of devices?
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Old 06-08-2019, 06:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SamuelA View Post
Proposal: require by law that if commercially available sensors, below a certain size/power consumption and of reasonable cost (say $5, adjusted for inflation), can meet the requirements, all cell phone manufacturers must install the sensors for phones sold in the United States.

The basic requirements would be for :

(a) an accumulating sensor able to detect chronic radiation exposure to gamma rays sufficient to significantly raise cancer rates
(b) an immediate-term sensor, able to distinguish and alert the user for levels of radiation:
a. 50% fatal within about a month
b. 50% fatal within a day
c. 50% fatal within an hour

It can just peg after case c.

Precision would not be a major requirement, merely a 95% probability that the sensor shows an alert before the levels for a,b, and c are reached in a test lab.

Thought of this watching the HBO show Chernobyl. If the firefighter's all had phones, which would all go off with shrill warnings when they approached the reactor building, they would have survived. Similarly, people have died from radioactive isotopes hidden in chairs and radon in their basement and other secret sources.

The sensors, in 100 million unit volumes, would probably be quite affordable, but it's not a feature that a cell phone manufacturer individually be able to put in the phone since it provides the user no immediately tangible benefit.
I think there are a number of other features that would be more useful for cell phones to be required to have - such as (off the top of my head)

1) Ability to operate in a network with other cell phones without cell towers in emergency situations. This would allow cell phones to remain useful when cell towers are disabled by loss of electricity.
2) Carbon Monoxide sensors (a bigger problem than radiation)

Mandating radiation detectors for all cell phones would produce a large number of conspiracy theories about why Congress was expecting this to become useful too a large number of people, which would be amusing.

P.S. For people such as fire-fighters or other emergency personnel who have a higher than usual likelihood of running into radiation, special purpose detectors made for those people are probably a better idea.
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Old 06-08-2019, 06:19 PM
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I worked with a guy whose graduate advisor helped put out Chernobyl. It killed him (slowly). He thought it would when he did it. He didn't really have a choice. He was ordered to do it. And if he hadn't, a lot more people would have died. The impression I got was that he was a reluctant and disgruntled hero.

But a radiation detector wouldn't have helped. It was a nuclear power plant. He knew he was screwed.
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Old 06-08-2019, 06:47 PM
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What is the data on false positives?
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Old 06-08-2019, 07:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Just Asking Questions View Post
What is the data on false positives?
Dunno, but the sensor specs above would cause it to only go off in fairly high radiation fields to prevent such nuisance trips. Also, sensors like this would be rather crucial to surviving nuclear fallout, just saying. (assuming the survivors are keeping their phones charged with generators or portable solar panels, and pulling spare phones from deceased victims of the nuclear attack)

Last edited by SamuelA; 06-08-2019 at 07:30 PM.
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Old 06-08-2019, 08:20 PM
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Why not have carbon monoxide detectors? There are 200 deaths per year in the US due to carbon monoxide. How many due to radiation?
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Old 06-08-2019, 08:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Telemark View Post
Why not have carbon monoxide detectors? There are 200 deaths per year in the US due to carbon monoxide. How many due to radiation?
Agree. I think we could agree on a sensor package, then.
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Old 06-08-2019, 09:10 PM
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Over 200 million cell phones are sold in the US each year. Using your number, that's $1 billion per year we'd be spending on radiation sensors on our phones. Do you really think that's the most useful thing we can spend $1 billion a year on?
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Old 06-08-2019, 09:16 PM
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Originally Posted by SamuelA View Post
Agree. I think we could agree on a sensor package, then.
I just checked Digikey, and this is the cheapest CO detector at $6 each. It's 17.5mm diameter and 14mm tall (not including the pins), and consumes 0.35W. Forget it, nobody would want that in a phone.
  #13  
Old 06-08-2019, 09:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Telemark View Post
Why not have carbon monoxide detectors? There are 200 deaths per year in the US due to carbon monoxide. How many due to radiation?
See post 5 https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...12&postcount=5
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Old 06-09-2019, 03:42 AM
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Originally Posted by SamuelA View Post
Dunno, but the sensor specs above would cause it to only go off in fairly high radiation fields to prevent such nuisance trips. Also, sensors like this would be rather crucial to surviving nuclear fallout, just saying. (assuming the survivors are keeping their phones charged with generators or portable solar panels, and pulling spare phones from deceased victims of the nuclear attack)
I am imaging a field full of screaming cellphone alarms attached to the hips of people frantically digging holes to duck into.

I'm not sure how such a sensor is going to help you survive nuclear fallout, particularly for the higher ranges. There are only two even slightly reasonable responses to that situation, the first being leave the radioactive area immediately and the second being get into a shielded bunker. In the case of a nuclear attack finding a means to leave the affected area is going to be difficult at best. Fallout shelters have issues regarding both adequate stocking with supplies and/or human waste disposal (think of several weeks of piss, shit, and possibly other bodily effluvia like vomit and contaminated clothing brought inside when you enterede when you can't afford radiation exposure to take it outside and have to find some way to store it inside with you.)

For that sort of situation a dosimeter might actually be more useful than simply a gieger counter. Knowing one's accumulated dose in some ways is more useful than knowing the current hazard. Multiple accumulated doses in a short period of time can be deadly, even if no one dose is super high.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Telemark View Post
Why not have carbon monoxide detectors? There are 200 deaths per year in the US due to carbon monoxide. How many due to radiation?
This actually makes a LOT more sense... except for the expense and technically issues involved in adding those to modern cellphones. Might be a nice option for some.
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Old 06-09-2019, 09:18 AM
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The answer to the OP is no.

Such a system would have had no real effect in Chernobyl, and would make even less sense in the US where fire-fighters who might respond to emergencies at nuclear plants undoubtedly have training in special procedures.

And if they don't, then training them in special procedures would be a better investment than equipping every cell phone with a radiation meter.
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Old 06-09-2019, 09:53 AM
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The biggest problem with the idea is, it gives the public the false impression that radiation is a big risk to their lives. Which will lead the public into worrying about radiation when the effort is better spent worrying about other risks. Improperly washed vegetables kill way more people than radiation, for example. Or choosing not to get a flu vaccine.
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Old 06-09-2019, 09:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Telemark View Post
Why not have carbon monoxide detectors? There are 200 deaths per year in the US due to carbon monoxide. How many due to radiation?
I'm not suggesting that we should be required to have radiation sensors on our cell phones, but to give a partial answer to your question, the EPA's best estimate for deaths due to radon induced lung cancer is 21,000 per year.
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Old 06-09-2019, 10:31 AM
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I'm not sure how such a sensor is going to help you survive nuclear fallout, particularly for the higher ranges. There are only two even slightly reasonable responses to that situation, the first being leave the radioactive area immediately and the second being get into a shielded bunker. In the case of a nuclear attack finding a means to leave the affected area is going to be difficult at best. Fallout shelters have issues regarding both adequate stocking with supplies and/or human waste disposal (think of several weeks of piss, shit, and possibly other bodily effluvia like vomit and contaminated clothing brought inside when you enterede when you can't afford radiation exposure to take it outside and have to find some way to store it inside with you.)
The situation you describe is one where the Geiger counter is more useful than a dosimeter. As you correctly point out, you want to avoid the radiation, but can't sit in your shelter forever. Survival then becomes a game of "eat the least contaminated stuff" (admittedly, you'd ideally want a device that can tell you what radioactive isotope you are about to ingest) and "don't step on the radiation hot spot". Further fun questions that a Geiger counter can answer: Will I have less or more radioactive stuff on my hands when I wash them in this pool of water? and When is the right time to use the last dust filter for my gas mask?
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Old 06-09-2019, 11:10 AM
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The situation you describe is one where the Geiger counter is more useful than a dosimeter. As you correctly point out, you want to avoid the radiation, but can't sit in your shelter forever. Survival then becomes a game of "eat the least contaminated stuff" (admittedly, you'd ideally want a device that can tell you what radioactive isotope you are about to ingest) and "don't step on the radiation hot spot". Further fun questions that a Geiger counter can answer: Will I have less or more radioactive stuff on my hands when I wash them in this pool of water? and When is the right time to use the last dust filter for my gas mask?
That's what I was generally thinking. Also, the regularly available ones, which are extremely rare and hard to find, tend to saturate at far too low a radiation level to be useful for survival. There is a substantial difference between "fatal in a month if I stay here" and "fatal in an hour".

Last edited by SamuelA; 06-09-2019 at 11:11 AM.
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Old 06-09-2019, 04:29 PM
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If I got a dose of radiation that would kill me in a month, I think I would know about it without checking my phone. So your idea seems a little over-designed.

Regards,
Shodan
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Old 06-10-2019, 07:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SamuelA View Post
Proposal: require by law that if commercially available sensors, below a certain size/power consumption and of reasonable cost (say $5, adjusted for inflation), can meet the requirements, all cell phone manufacturers must install the sensors for phones sold in the United States.
There are ~400M cellular service subscribers in the US.

They upgrade their phones about every two years.

That's 100M phones replaced every year, so the total cost of your mandatory sensor program would be about $500M/year.

For public safety policy decisions by the US government, the value of a human life is set at roughly $9M.

Your proposal would have to save about 56 lives per year, every year, to be economically justifiable. This seems unlikely.

If you disagree with the numbers I've cited, feel free to substitute your own and redo the math. The number of people in the US who die every year from acute radiation exposure is awfully low, so I can't imagine any realistic numbers that would justify your proposal.

Re: carbon monoxide detectors, CO is a concern for enclosed spaces. Rather than putting CO detectors in a vast army of short-lived cell phones, it makes more sense to only put them in fixed locations where there's a potential for CO buildup, and where they can serve their entire 5-year lifespan.

Radon buildup is likewise only a problem in a small percentage of homes. Moreover, if you do have a confirmed radon problem, you don't address it by having your phone beep every time you go into your basement; you install a mitigation system.
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Old 06-10-2019, 07:35 AM
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I was joking about the carbon monoxide sensor, trying to point out that if you were going to put any sensors on phones, radiation is clearly not the one to put there. But as others have pointed out, phones are not particularly good vehicles for these type of sensors; it's lots of unnecessary cost and complexity, in a poor format, for little return.
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Old 06-10-2019, 08:31 AM
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Sounds like a solution in search of a problem to me. How often are people accidentally wandering into irradiated areas that we need to put Geiger counters in hundreds of millions of devices?
I don't even think it's technically feasible; Geiger counters use currents of hundreds of volts, so unless we're talking about extremely small amperages, that's not something a cell phone battery could power for long.

Apparently the cameras on modern phones can do a credible job:

https://phys.org/news/2014-06-smartp...-positive.html

Last edited by bump; 06-10-2019 at 08:33 AM.
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Old 06-10-2019, 08:32 AM
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Do firefighters have their cell phones in their pockets when they gear up to fight a fire? I'd think that's something that gets left in their locker or on the truck.
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Old 06-10-2019, 08:42 AM
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I don't even think it's technically feasible; Geiger counters use currents of hundreds of volts, so unless we're talking about extremely small amperages, that's not something a cell phone battery could power for long.
"Geiger Counter" has become a generic term for any radiation detector.
If this was implemented, it would likely be done using a solid-state radiation detector, like some variation of the camera imager currently used.

But, even if you wanted to use a real Geiger-Muller tube, the voltage is not much of an issue - the current require is extremely small.
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Old 06-10-2019, 08:46 AM
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The government should only require things that are absolutely going to improve the consumers' lives. Like, for instance, those pop-sockets. I've never purchased one, but everybody seems to have them on their phones and they sure seem to like them.
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Old 06-10-2019, 11:50 AM
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There are ~400M cellular service subscribers in the US.

They upgrade their phones about every two years.

That's 100M phones replaced every year, so the total cost of your mandatory sensor program would be about $500M/year.

For public safety policy decisions by the US government, the value of a human life is set at roughly $9M.

Your proposal would have to save about 56 lives per year, every year, to be economically justifiable. This seems unlikely.

If you disagree with the numbers I've cited, feel free to substitute your own and redo the math. The number of people in the US who die every year from acute radiation exposure is awfully low, so I can't imagine any realistic numbers that would justify your proposal.
Good analysis and your conclusion seems reasonable. How do you account for 'black swans'? That is, a large scale nuclear war could be a fairly small chanceyet if it happened, these detectors would potentially save thousands of lives.
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Old 06-10-2019, 12:21 PM
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If the technology allows them to be included in a cell phone at very low cost then they will end up in almost every phone anyway. If the government tries to require this it will result in cultural blowback, mostly conspiracy theories, and some libertarian objections on being told what to do.

Same applies to CO detectors, and anything else the public can be convinced is useful, doesn't cost too much, and makes their cellphones better than someone else's.
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Old 06-10-2019, 12:21 PM
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The government should only require things that are absolutely going to improve the consumers' lives. Like, for instance, those pop-sockets. I've never purchased one, but everybody seems to have them on their phones and they sure seem to like them.
Make the face of the pop socket a film dosimeter.

That's right, I'm a problem solver.
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Old 06-10-2019, 12:42 PM
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Good analysis and your conclusion seems reasonable. How do you account for 'black swans'? That is, a large scale nuclear war could be a fairly small chanceyet if it happened, these detectors would potentially save thousands of lives.
I think generally you'd use the expected value, i.e. probability of an event multiplied by the number of lives saved in that situation. If the device would save 1000 lives in a nuclear war, but the chance of that specific type of nuclear war is 1 in 100, that's an expected value of 10 lives saved.

Last edited by scr4; 06-10-2019 at 12:43 PM.
  #31  
Old 06-10-2019, 01:01 PM
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Good analysis and your conclusion seems reasonable. How do you account for 'black swans'? That is, a large scale nuclear war could be a fairly small chanceyet if it happened, these detectors would potentially save thousands of lives.
For poly-making purposes, I can think of two ways to account for black swans such as large-scale nuclear war:

#1: estimate the likelihood of such a war, and estimate how many lives might be saved if such detectors were ubiquitous. Good luck with that, no matter which side of the discussion one happens to lean toward.

#2: acknowledge that the probability is non-zero but probably very small. The government advises people on how to to prepare for and respond to a number of potential disasters, including nuclear war. Their advice includes preparing an emergency supply kit; however, there is no recommendation anywhere for the average person to keep a geiger counter on hand, which suggests that the utility of widespread adoption is regarded as being pretty low.
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Old 06-10-2019, 01:06 PM
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You would save more lives by devices that would detect UV levels that would contribute to skin cancer, or tell you not to smoke.
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  #33  
Old 06-10-2019, 02:29 PM
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You would save more lives by devices that would detect UV levels that would contribute to skin cancer, or tell you not to smoke.
We have those, they're called "moms". Calibrations could be off on any given example, however.
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Old 06-10-2019, 03:30 PM
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Proposal: require by law that if commercially available sensors, below a certain size/power consumption and of reasonable cost (say $5, adjusted for inflation), can meet the requirements, all cell phone manufacturers must install the sensors for phones sold in the United States.
...
Hell, no; our phones would be a lot bigger.

ETA: I posted before reading on the cell phone app. That's impressive!

Last edited by sps49sd; 06-10-2019 at 03:34 PM.
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Old 06-10-2019, 04:52 PM
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We have those, they're called "moms". Calibrations could be off on any given example, however.
They also tell you when you're too cold.
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Old 06-10-2019, 04:53 PM
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Good analysis and your conclusion seems reasonable. How do you account for 'black swans'? That is, a large scale nuclear war could be a fairly small chanceyet if it happened, these detectors would potentially save thousands of lives.
Unless you're also planning on mandating hand-crank chargers on all cell phones, there's not likely to be power for them for more than a few hours after the bombs drop.
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Old 06-10-2019, 06:22 PM
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If the technology allows them to be included in a cell phone at very low cost then they will end up in almost every phone anyway. If the government tries to require this it will result in cultural blowback, mostly conspiracy theories, and some libertarian objections on being told what to do.

Same applies to CO detectors, and anything else the public can be convinced is useful, doesn't cost too much, and makes their cellphones better than someone else's.
I was wondering how far in the thread Id have to go to see my answer. "Hell no. 'Requires'?? Talk about government overreach."
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