From the Department of Really Cool Gadgets comes a protoype for a mobile phone that will alert us to all the bad stuff out there.

It can sense pollen counts, measure ozone levels and gauge excess carbon in the air. It's the real-life version of Star Trek's tricorder.

Eric Paulos of the Human-Computer Interface Interaction Institute is pioneering research into developing consumer-grade tricorders to measure environmental conditions in real time. In addition to keeping device users abreast of health concerns, the potential to create citizen scientists with environmental data at their fingertips has huge implications for public education.

With the iPhone christening the age of readily-adaptable mobile technology, the landscape is ripe for hand-held's to be fine-tuned for applications far beyond mobile communication. And not surprisingly the military has been one of the first buyers on the tricorder market, leveraging them to sense the heat coming from terrorists through concrete wall and other physical barriers.