Facemasks which light up when they detect coronavirus are in development by Harvard.
Scientists have woven sensors into the fabric that can detect coronavirus when someone breathes into the mask.
The mask then emits fluorescent light if the wearer has the virus. The concept would require the mask to be scanned by a handheld device to check if the wearer is Covid-19 positive.
The technology could be used for the quick testing of patients, rather than temperature checks, to help detect local outbreaks of Covid-19 as lockdown is lifted.
The researchers from Harvard and MIT say that it could be used for commuting, as the UK looks to get more people safely back to work.
“As we open up our transit system, you could envision it being used in airports as we go through security, as we wait to get on a plane,” said researcher Jim Collins.
“You or I could use it on the way to and from work. Hospitals could use it for patients as they come in or wait in the waiting room as a pre-screen of who’s infected.”
“Once we’re in that stage, then it would be a matter [of] setting up trials with individuals expected to be infected to see if it would work in a real-world setting.”
“We initially did this on paper to create inexpensive paper-based diagnostics. We’ve shown it can work on plastic, quartz, as well as cloth.”
The technology was first developed in 2016 to combat outbreaks of Zika and Ebola viruses as scientists looked for the need for low-cost diagnostics for pandemic regions across the world.
After adapting their technology to detect viruses such as SARS, measles, hepatitis C and influenza, they are now using it in the fight against Covid-19.
The sensors work by freeze-drying genetic material into the fabric, which is able to remain stable at room temperature for months.
These are then activated from the moisture provided when we breathe into the mask, with saliva or mucus containing the virus giving a positive reading.
Though the fluorescent light is not visible to the naked eye, it is shown up by a device called a fluorimeter.
Prof Collins says that these devices cost “about a dollar” and could be used by public officials to scan the masks of potential commuters who might have the virus.
The team of researchers expect to demonstrate how the mask works within a few weeks.