COVID breathalyzer

Aggies blow into disposable straws to test new Worlds Protect kiosk stationed at the Zachary Engineering Education Complex.

The Texas A&M University System and Worlds Inc. have partnered to create a COVID-19 breathalyzer, which could be an alternative to polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests.

The A&M System announced the breathalyzer, which is officially labeled “Worlds Protect,” in a Nov. 19 press release. It is currently being tested by Worlds Inc. as well as the A&M System and the U.S. Air Force, in hopes of getting FDA approval within the next few months. This new testing system takes the form of a kiosk and works by using an individual's breath, blown through a disposable straw and into a copper inlet, to test for specific compounds the body generates when fighting COVID-19.

Associate professor David Staack played a role in developing the breath-capturing system. He said the team at A&M has already made significant improvements to the prototype.

“Previously, a person would blow into the device and the breath would waft away, which didn’t give us a good measurement,” Staack said. “I helped engineer a system which would pull the breath in and hold it for about 30 seconds to a minute to properly analyze the breath.”

Staack said the unique chemical signature associated with a person’s breath has allowed the researchers to distinguish between a COVID-19-positive person’s breath and a COVID-19-negative person.

“By taking various breaths, you’re able to learn what it looks like when a person has COVID[-19] versus when they don’t,” Staack said. “If it's unknown, that's where the artificial intelligence comes in. It decides which algorithm it fits best with, positive or negative.”

Worlds Protect kiosks can be found in several locations on campus. Staack said they are currently in the phase of human subject testing.

“We did some at the Rec, the Quad and the MSC,” Staack said. “Right now, we’re trying to get enough data to train that artificial intelligence. We’re obviously training the device to detect COVID[-19] right now, but we can train it to detect strep throat or the flu and other viruses in the future.”

Staack said the next steps are getting the device approved by the FDA and producing it in large numbers while still upholding quality.

Director of Communications for the A&M System Mike Reilly said Worlds Protect is a unique device that will revolutionize the way scientists and doctors approach diseases.

“I don’t think there is anything else like this in the works anywhere,” Reilly said. “Through the use of artificial intelligence, these devices will capture, analyze, store and share data about COVID-19 and eventually other health concerns. This technology could stop the next pandemic long before it gets out of hand.”

Though large gatherings are strongly discouraged during this time, Reilly said the future looks bright.

“A year from now, I won’t be surprised to see these high-tech devices outside of the entrances of Air Force bases all over the U.S., as well as outside of factories, sports venues, office buildings and churches,” Reilly said. “They could drastically improve how we create safe spaces for people to gather.”

The A&M System has also released footage of the device in use, as well as further information in video form.

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