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Infectious Diseases

14 May 2020

Could we soon diagnose Covid-19 at home with a smartphone?

Research from the University of Pittsburgh could lead to a solution to help people diagnose and monitor Covid-19 in their homes with a smartphone.

A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are re-imagining a way to test Americans (and hopefully the rest of the world) through something most of us own – the smartphone.

According to a news release, their project aims to use the existing hardware and computing power of smartphones to promote non-invasive at-home testing for Covid-19.

 The goal is ultimately to be able to test on a mass scale without special equipment and clinicians.

"In this project, we will develop new mobile sensing and artificial intelligence techniques for in-home evaluation of Covid-19 in an effort to quickly and effectively identify viral disease carriers," said Wei Gao, lead researcher and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering in a press release

"We hope this work will also help identify negative cases caused by other diseases with similar symptoms, and therefore, help eliminate unnecessary hospital visits during this pandemic," he stated

How will the technology work?

Gao and his research team will look towards the microphones and speakers of smartphones to develop acoustic sensing to measure changes in the human airway linked to Covid-19.

"We will begin by designing new acoustic waveforms to minimise acoustic signal distortion in human airways," Gao said. "We will then develop new signal processing techniques for accurate measurements and eventually apply deep learning techniques to create generic models that depict the core characteristics of airway mechanics."

Users will be able to download and install an app and will need to use a smartphone adapter as a mouthpiece, where acoustic signals from the airways will be transmitted and recorded through the phone’s microphone.

If the project is successful, it could help accurately diagnose Covid-19 cases without people having to go to hospitals and test centres, which could also help curb the spread among healthcare personnel and other frontline workers.

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