Researchers working on smartphone sensor to detect COVID-19

SALT LAKE CITY (KSTU/CNN) – Researchers at the University of Utah are developing a new way to detect COVID-19 with a smartphone.

What started as a device to help detect a completely different virus could become a big part of tracking the novel coronavirus.

“We started this project about 12 months ago, and the main idea was to enable people to have their own personal sensors to detect Zika in places that they travel,” said Massood Tabib-Azar, a University of Utah professor and the lead engineer on the project.

The plan is to take the Zika virus sensor and program it to identify COVID-19 instead.

“Our prototype is going to be on the order of the size of a quarter, and it would be communicating with a cellphone using the Bluetooth link,” Tabib-Azar said.

If someone were to breathe, cough, sneeze or blow on the sensor, it would be able to tell if someone had COVID-19. The results would then be displayed on a cellphone within 60 seconds.

It could also test for the virus on a surface by using a swab and placing it onto the sensor.

Tabib-Azar said he wants to make it possible to send the results to health agencies too.

“You’d push the button and it can send to a central location, Centers for Disease Control or any other authority that you’d select in your options, and then in real time can update the map,” Tabib-Azar said.

The sensor will be reusable because it can destroy the previous sample with a small electrical current.

“In principle, we can put these devices in everybody’s hand, and once we produce them in large scale inexpensively, then it’s like any other thing that people want to have with them,” Tabib-Azar said.

The plan is to have a working prototype in two months, before submitting it for clinical trials, which are expected to last another month.

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