COVID-19 detecting sensors may come to smartphones

We’ve used our phones to fight the COVID-19 pandemic – from testing and tracing systems and apps to simply staying on top of the latest news and developments. Now, our smartphones themselves could be used to identify coronavirus-laden particles as a new line of defense against this and future pandemics.

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Researchers and scientists at General Electric have received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to design and develop tiny sensors that can be embedded in mobiles to detect the presence of COVID-19 particles.

This comes after initial research that the team claim has the same detection capabilities as far larger analytical instruments found in labs that tests samples for the virus. The underlying technology has been in development for a decade, and the team can alter and tune the miniature technology to isolate the virus particles with utmost accuracy.

According to the team, the grant will go towards refining the fingertip-sized sensor it hopes will be placed inside devices like smartphones, fitness trackers and other wearables, as well as wall-mounted gadgets that are stationary. It will take about two years to reach this point. While the coronavirus pandemic is largely believed will be contained by then, this same technology can easily be tweaked and updated for any future viruses that may spread throughout the world.

Of course, there is no guarantee that we will see these sensors in our smartphones soon (or ever), but it is easy to imagine it simply being another sensor on our phones alongside the cameras, ultrasonic, radar, biometric and other sensors.

“Our sensors are sort of like bloodhounds,” said Radislav Potyrailo, a principal scientist at GE Research. “We train them to detect a specific thing, and they are able to do that well without being thrown off the trail by something else.”