As people begin to return to the workplace and in-person operations prepare to resume, facility managers are challenged to employ point-of-entry screening methods that are robust, non-invasive, non-disruptive, and preserve privacy. To address this challenge, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) awarded $199,653 in Phase 1 funding to Farmspace Systems, LLC, a veteran-owned start-up based in Alamo, Tenn., to enhance its COVID Finder technology, a non-thermal detection COVID-19 screening method.
“We know that using thermal detection, or temperature checks, is a stop gap solution. There isn’t a way to effectively detect the virus in individuals in large volume,” said Melissa Oh, managing director of S&T’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP). “Exploring this technology will bolster DHS efforts to safely bring back our valued workforce.” SVIP awarded the funds under the Emerging Needs: COVID-19 Response & Future Mitigation solicitation.
The Farmspace COVID Finder team was formed in May 2020 for the purpose of developing a fast, accurate, and non-invasive COVID-19 screening for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic viral carriers. Farmspace’s proposed solution entails a COVID Finder Point-of-Passage portal designed to capture and identify real-time images of viruses in exhaled breath using artificial intelligence and disinfect the booth between occupants with ultraviolet light. Phase 1 of this project will establish a framework for using images from breath to diagnose a plethora of infectious, inflammatory, and malignant diseases.
“Based on early analysis, the emerging ‘solution of choice’ for workplace screening was febrile (fever) scanning. However, better alternatives were always known to be necessary,” said Kevin Grottle, DHS S&T program manager. “This SVIP topic was structured to determine if there were any pre-market technologies that match the ‘ease’ of fever scanning while overcoming its limitations. The Farmspace approach may provide both.”
The potential long-term value of COVID Finder is its ability to adapt screening rapidly to meet the current pandemic screening challenges, as well as possible viral outbreaks in the future.