Liquid Testing with Your Smartphone (MobiSys'19)

Surface tension is an important property of liquids. It has diverse uses such as testing water contamination, measuring alcohol concentration in drinks, and identifying the presence of protein in urine to detect the onset of kidney failure. Today, measurements of surface tension are done in a lab environment using costly instruments, making it hard to leverage this property in ubiquitous applications.

In contrast, this paper shows how to measure surface tension using only a smartphone. It introduces a new algorithm that uses the small waves on the liquid surface as a series of lenses that focus light and generate a characteristic pattern. We then use the phone camera to capture this pattern and measure the surface tension. The proposed approach is simple, accurate and available to anyone with a smartphone. Empirical evaluations show that the proposed mobile app can detect water contamination and measure alcohol concentration. Furthermore, it can track protein concentration in the urine, providing an initial at-home test for proteinuria, a dangerous complication that can lead to kidney failure.

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