Aerospace giant Airbus, which has been developing smell cameras to detect explosives, is working on sensors that could detect the coronavirus. Microprocessors made of biological cells are used in sensors to identify chemicals and microbes in the air. This technology could be used to provide warning in areas contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 as similar technology has already been used to detect cancer and influenza.
Airbus has partnered with Koniku, a California-based start-up which specializes in neurotechnology for the project. As virus makes slight tweaks to particles produced by humans, smell cameras can detect the alterations that act as markers.
Airbus said in a statement that the company and Koniku Inc entered into a corporate agreement in 2017, "leveraging Airbus' expertise in sensor integration and knowledge of ground and on-board security operations within the aviation and defense industries." Founder & CEO of Koniku, Osh Agabi, stated in a blog post that both the companies have been working to develop a biotechnology solution to track and locate explosives or chemicals in aircraft or at airports.
"We are now adapting our development activities to include the detection and identification of biological hazards including pathogens such as the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 with encouraging signals as of today."
Product security director of Airbus, Julien Touzeau, said in the best conditions the technology has a quick response of under 10 seconds. They are trying to improve it over time. When a specific molecular compound is detected, receptors in sensors would raise an alarm. As compared to sniffer dogs, the system will be faster, cheaper and more reliable.
US travel restrictions
Efforts such as the one by Airbus come as the US Travel Association is eagerly waiting for COVID-19 travel restrictions to ease. They have submitted a 15-page report to the White House and state governors highlighting health and safety guidelines for careful reopening of the travel industry. The US government imposed travel restrictions on March 16 in order to curb the spread of the virus.