Scientists at Bell Labs in New Jersey have discovered that your cellphone reveals your vital signs, even when you don’t answer it. Victor and Olga Boric-Lubecke noticed that some of the microwaves transmitted by the cellphone’s antenna bounce back to the phone from the chest, heart and lungsof the person using it, indicating their pulse and breathing rates.

Bell Labs plans to modify their cellphones by adding a circuit that will detect these subtle signals. The phone would send this information on to a base station. “We’re talking about very low-frequency signals,” say the researchers. “They’re easy to separate from a voice.”

One important use for this would be to help in the search for earthquake victims who are buried under rubble, but are still alive. Your phone has to be switched on, but you don’t have to answer it for the system to work. In order for the base to pick up the reflected signals, the cellphone has to be held steady for a few seconds, which would happen if the user was trapped or unconscious.

Doctors could also use your cellphone to routinely monitor your heart rate and breathing, just by calling you up.

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