MoboSens awarded at Nokia Sensing XChallenge

ECE News

Jonathan Damery, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • MoboSens, a smartphone-based biosensor developed by Assistant Professor Logan Liu and his students, won a Distinguished Award at the Nokia Sensing XChallenge.
  • At the competition, the team showcased a new product line, MoboSens 2.0, which can detect glucose and cholesterol concentrations in blood.
  • The team also demonstrated the enhanced design and capabilities of their water-contamination sensing device, MoboSens 1.0.

“The device has actually changed a lot since then,” said Assistant Professor Gang Logan Liu, referring to his smartphone-based biosensor, MoboSens, which earned a top award at the Vodafone Wireless Innovation Project last spring. After that competition, he and his team of graduate students used the prize money to continue developing the device, and, early last month, when they presented an enhanced design at the Nokia Sensing XChallenge in Santa Clara, they were awarded again. It was a Distinguished Award, carrying a prize of $120,000 from Nokia and XPrize.

MoboSens members with Nokia and XPrize representatives at the Nokia Sensing XChallenge award ceremony.
MoboSens members with Nokia and XPrize representatives at the Nokia Sensing XChallenge award ceremony.
Technological innovation proceeds rapidly, and MoboSens is a case in point. Within the short timespan between competitions, the team introduced a new product line: MoboSens 2.0. The devices look similar and use many of the same components, but instead of testing for water contamination, as the first device did, MoboSens 2.0 can identify biomolecules in blood and other bodily fluids. “This is very common in technology development. You don’t redo everything. You just build onto what you already have and keep doing better,” Liu said. 

MoboSens 2.0 could be used for routine health monitoring at home or in a clinic. “We have the function to basically characterize glucose concentration in the blood [and] cholesterol concentration in the blood,” Liu said. With additional developments, the sensor could detect heart and liver enzymes and the biomarkers associated with kidney disease. This would be invaluable for diabetics. “Eventually this is something that can be used to replace or become an alternative solution to the glucometer. Many diabetic patients suffer with complications: They may have kidney problems. They may have cardiovascular problems. Those things need to be screened at the same time, but currently, [glucometers] can only detect glucose.”

Because MoboSens 2.0 is coupled with a smartphone, the readings could be securely transferred to a physician. If home tests were taken regularly, then doctors would be more likely to catch diseases and other health complications early. “Because traditionally, we only do a blood test, let’s say once a year or something like that, but many diseases could develop in between,” Liu said, “So what if you can do this affordably and more frequently on your smartphone. Then you may catch that disease in its very early stage, at its inception stage, and that’s the best time to cure a disease.”

But the introduction of MoboSens 2.0 wasn’t the only development between the Vodafone and Nokia competitions. The water-sensing device, MoboSens 1.0, has been enhanced to detect additional contaminants. The original prototype could only identify nitrates, which, in agricultural streams, are associated with the over-application of fertilizer. This alone is important because quantifying water-borne nitrates could help farmers optimize fertilizer application. Yet with the improved MoboSens sensor, the device can also detect phosphates and arsenic. 

The MoboSens biosensor.
The MoboSens biosensor.
Size was another change. Like the smartphones with which MoboSens devices are coupled, the design has gotten more compact and sleeker. It is still large enough to accommodate a 9-volt battery and the other components, but the current device is about half the size of the original.  Even the sensor was shrunk, and its design was made more industry compatible, so that, if they want to make hundreds or even millions of them, the foundry companies could easily do so.  

In fact, the team is currently working with two foundries for the first production run of MoboSens 1.0. “I would not be surprised to see this start being used by many people in six months,” Liu said. “We are actually collaborating with water-related research groups on campus and outside of campus to do some pilot studies and deploy the sensors in the field."

MoboSens 2.0 will take longer to reach market. Because it pertains to human health, it requires approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. “And that takes some time,” Liu said. 

As for the Nokia Sensing XChallenge, Liu credits the success to the student team members: Te-Wei Chang, Lonna Edwards, Manas Gartia, Jimmy Jiang, Lisa Plucinski, Caleb Qian, Xinhao Wang, and Tristan Wietsma. “They did not only a good job at developing the technology, but also a very good job of communicating effectively to the judges as well as the public,” Liu said. “I think that’s one of the reasons why we got this Distinguished Award, because people see our team is very young and energetic…They are very passionate about their work, and they are very innovative.”

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