NSF invests $1M in smartphone-based system for mobile disease detection


Rick Kubetz, Engineering at Illinois

An Illinois research team, led by Professor Brian T Cunningham, will develop a mobile sensor technology for performing detection and identification of viral and bacterial pathogens.

Brian T. Cunningham
Brian T. Cunningham

Cunningham, the director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory (MNTL) and also a bioengineering professor, is the principal investigator for PathTracker: A smartphone-based system for mobile infectious disease detection and epidemiology.

It's one of the 10 NSF Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity projects funded this year.

Cunningham's research team includes co-principal investigators Associate Professor Steven Sam Lumetta, Bioengineering Department Head and ECE affiliate Rashid Bashir, NCSA's Ian Brooks, and David Hirschberg of the University of Washington at Seattle. They've received $1 million in funding for their work on the PathTracker.

The PathTracker's smartphone-based detection instrument will share results with a cloud-based data management service. It will enable physicians to rapidly visualize the geographical and temporal spread of infectious disease.

Photonic crystals will enable a smartphone-based system to detect and track infectious diseases.
Photonic crystals will enable a smartphone-based system to detect and track infectious diseases.
When deployed by a community of medical users (such as veterinarians or point-of-care clinicians), the PathTracker system will enable rapid determination and reporting of instances of infectious disease that can inform treatment and quarantine responses that are currently not possible with tests performed at central laboratory facilities.

Their team and the nine other NSF Partnerships in Innovation projects focus on service systems. New technologies that learn from data are bringing intelligence to service systems, allowing them to center on people by incorporating individuals' feedback and input. These systems create more value through adaptive and individualized interactions.

"Smart, human-centered service systems offer unprecedented new economic opportunities and societal benefits, whether to an individual seeking personalized medical care or to a utility company managing energy demands," said Pramod Khargonekar, NSF assistant director for engineering. "Bringing new technologies, and new system design thinking and human factors together can lead to services we are just beginning to imagine."

The interdisciplinary projects will engage academia and the private sector in highly interactive collaborations. Partners will advance, adapt, and integrate novel smart technologies for service systems in ways that dramatically improve performance.

"Partnerships between academia and industry supported through these projects can help to translate innovative research and emerging technologies into smart service systems, which will help to enable smart and connected communities of the future," said Jim Kurose, NSF assistant director for NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

This year, NSF funded 10 Partnerships for Innovation: Building Innovation Capacity (PFI:BIC) projects for smart, human-centered service systems:

NSF's fiscal year 2015 investment in PFI:BIC is a collaboration among the directorates for engineering, computer and information science and engineering, and geosciences. In fiscal year 2014, engineering and computer and information science and engineering funded 11 PFI:BIC projects for smart service systems.

Investments from the PFI:BIC program were announced as part of NSF's commitments at a White House event launching the National Smart Cities Initiative.