The device measures the very small amount of gas on people's breath with a detectability of 0.1ppm. The person is just blowing a breath to the desktop-size device and in almost 30 seconds, the result is on display.
Gas chromatography has been typically used in order to achieve such a high detectability in human's breath. However, this method requires expertise for analysis and takes several days to complete.
Toshiba's quick analysis method is using the "laser absorption spectroscopy," which exploits the fact that each gas absorbs light having a certain wavelength depending on its type. With this method, the new device detects a gas that functions as a biomarker in exhaled breath that contains about 500 kinds of trace gasses.
In order to mprove detection accuracy, Toshiba employed a laser light source having a wavelength that allows each gas to absorb a large amount of light. The company used a "quantum cascade laser," which has an oscillation wavelength of 3-10µm (mid-infrared waveband), instead of a common laser device (oscillation wavelength: 2.5µm or lower).
The quantum cascade laser ha high-efficiency and enables each electron to emit light several times.
The current version of the device can measure organic compounds such as acetone, which can indicate obesity and diabetes, and acetaldehyde, which is involved in the chemistry of hangovers.
Toshiba plans to improve the analyzer so it will be able to also detect carbon monoxide, methane, nitric monoxide and other constituents to be able to check on conditions such as smoking, intestinal bacteria, asthma and helicobacter pylori, a stomach bacterium linked to ulcers and cancer.
Toshiba wants to work with universities and hospitals to pool knowledge of breath analysis for diagnostic and other applications. The company plans to release the device in fiscal 2015.