The US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (RDECOM ECBC) has signed an agreement with tech start-up TrekReader to develop a pocket-sized device for soldiers to detect dangerous biological and chemical substances.

The small instrument can detect multiple biological substances simultaneously within a few minutes and at a low cost, anywhere in the world. The TrekReader VOCkit can identify 48 different illnesses.

TrekReader CEO Robert Baumgardner said: “TrekReader is envisioned to provide anyone a portable, simple and economical way to test for human pathogens. An army flight medic who evaluated the prototype said it could help him determine the level of mission risk. The response to flu would be different from the response required if a soldier has contracted Ebola.”

The TrekReader VOCkit can function as an independent device, or as part of a system of detection equipment. Baumgardner said the device could assist both the Army Net Warrior End User Device soldier system and the US Army Special Operations Command.

“An army flight medic who evaluated the prototype said it could help him determine the level of mission risk.”

The device is not purely intended for military use, but can also be adapted for civilian applications.

VOCkit team principal investigator Patricia Buckley said: “Our first project with Dr Baumgardner saw the successful development of an immunoassay reader that interfaces with a cellphone, and detects viral, bacterial and fungal pathogens, so we already have a great working relationship.

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“ECBC continues to develop the concept of a mobile assay reader. We currently have a chemical assay reader, with mature hardware and flexible software. We are excited to leverage this experience of again working with Dr Baumgardner in order to develop the TrekReader under this cooperative research and development agreement.”

Baumgardner is now working on optimising the size of the device so that soldiers can carry it around comfortably. He also plans to extend the number of dangerous biological substances that the TrekReader VOCkit can identify.