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SmartCAR makes soldiers wise to chem-bio threats

Army researchers are getting ready to field a handheld device that can let soldiers know quickly if they have been exposed to a harmful biological or chemical agent.

The SmartCAR device (for smart color-metric assay readers) uses a color-metric test strip to identify pathogens—such as anthrax or ricin, for example—then transmit the results via soldiers’ Nett Warrior smartphones. The result: a medic would know to begin treatment after a positive test, a commander would know of the presence of the pathogen, and the soldier’s exposure would be automatically entered into his or her medical records.

"Although much of the technology in SmartCAR is commercial off-the-shelf, it is a real innovation because it is a handheld field-ready device that not only determines exposure, but provides its own data management and distribution," said Dr. Patricia Buckley, a research scientist on the SmartCAR development team at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), said in an Army release.  

The test strips used in SmartrCAR are not unlike those used in pregnancy tests, the Army said. A warfighter could take a saliva or stool sample and put it into a vial that has a reagent designed to bind with a specific pathogen. Placing a drop from the vial onto the strip and then inserting the strip into the SmartCAR yields the diagnosis: positive or negative. From there, Nett Warrior shares that information up the chain.

SmartCAR was developed along with another device called the VOCkit, which is intended to test for dozens of pathogens at a time, but, unlike SmartCAR, doesn’t perform analysis itself, instead sending data to a software system for examination. Although SmartCAR can test only for one pathogen at a time, its range is limited only by the variety of strip assays developed for it, whether for mustard gas, sarin, bubonic plague or any other pathogen. And in situations where units are not sure what might be in the air, soldiers could each test for different pathogens. The Army hopes eventually to combine SmartCAR with VOCkit.

ECBC developed SmartCAR for the Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, which has been demonstrating the prototype to military organizations in order to gauge their interest.

"It is exciting to be able to work on something that will actually go out into the field and help soldiers safely accomplish their mission," Buckley said. "With more time and funding, SmartCAR will be used in more and more settings, such as relief missions and even hospitals."

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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