University launches mobile COVID-19 testing lab

mobileSHIELD is designed to demonstrate a way to rapidly deploy I-COVID, the saliva-based test for COVID-19 developed at the University of Illinois.

By Lois Yoksoulian November 19, 2020

The Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has completed the prototype for a mobile laboratory, called mobileSHIELD, designed to demonstrate a way to rapidly deploy I-COVID, the saliva-based test for COVID-19 developed at Illinois.

The project, funded by the University of Illinois System and supported by the Discovery Partners Institute, Shield T3 and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, also could deliver other testing capability during a public health crisis, and it will serve as a rich source of human factors engineering data, said Abigail R. Wooldridge, an industrial and enterprise systems engineering professor and mobileSHIELD project director.

In addition to leading the design of the new mobile lab, Wooldridge and her research group are studying how interdisciplinary teams can adapt and respond to a range of crises like future pandemics and natural disasters.

“Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic require quick responses, and the mobileSHIELD project is a great example of how we can quickly gather a highly interdisciplinary team to respond to a temporary situation,” Wooldridge said. “These types of teams are crucial for addressing any emergent societal issue, whether it’s a pandemic, hurricane, earthquake, wildfires or civil unrest.”

The mobile laboratory concept is not new, she said, but the Grainger Engineering-led team is designing facilities with an eye on the needs of the technicians and their patients.

“We’re spending a lot of time thinking about the people,” she said. “We are focusing on what will make a mobile lab technician’s work easier, safer and more efficient. We are also thinking about what happens outside of the lab, like how we will collect specimens while keeping workers and patients safe and comfortable.”

Announcements regarding mobileSHIELD deployments are expected soon from Shield T3, which is identifying practical applications for the project. The University of Illinois Board of Trustees created Shield T3, a limited liability company, as part of a broad effort to expand the reach of saliva-based testing pioneered by researchers at the U. of I.

– Edited by Chris Vavra, associate editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

Author Bio: Lois Yoksoulian, physical sciences editor, University of Illinois