Scientists around the globe are racing to find a vaccine or effective and medicine to combat the virus. Airbus has also joined hands with a tech startup to find a solution to make air travel safer.
Airbus is partnering with startup Koniku to build sensors capable of detecting if coronavirus is circulating in a plane or at the airport. The technology is based on smell sensors that can identify if the air particles are carrying the contagion.
The collaboration between Koniku, a neurotech company, based in Bay Area, California, and Airbus was initially about weeding out any terrorist threat of a biohazard or harmful chemicals during air travel. Airbus has been collaborating with Koniku since 2017 “to meet the rigorous operational regulatory requirements” of air travel.
The sensors are built from living biological cells that can “smell” molecular compounds. Airbus intends to place multiple odor-detection devices at some select airport tunnels. The aim was to detect hazardous chemicals but they are hopeful now of using the tech to sniff out viruses like Covid-19
Julien Touzeau, head of product security for the Americas at Airbus, said in an interview with the Financial Times, “The technology has a very quick response time of under 10 seconds in best conditions. With this level of maturity, it’s an incredible result and hopefully, it will improve over time.”
According to the founder of Koniku, Oshiorenoya Agabi, the devices developed by them, similar to smell cameras, will be basically breathing in air and breaking down its compositions to tell you what all is there.
"What we do is we take biological cells, either Hek cells or astrocytes -- brain cells -- and we genetically modify them to have olfactory receptors," Agabi told Financial Times. The whole idea is based on odor detection. Certain diseases emit specific smells and if the molecular structure of the disease is mapped then machines will be able to recognize patterns of a particular illness and send out alerts.
"You wake up in the morning, you breathe on our device... and we are analyzing, in a longitudinal fashion, your state of health. That is one of our big visions, " Agabi elaborated on how the detector sensor could be further used in the future.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says the airline industry could lose a quarter of a trillion dollars in revenues this year. The vibrant, healthy industry will lose several years of growth and it could take until 2022 or 2023 before the volume of fliers returns to the levels before the pandemic, according to research firm OAG.
With air travel stalled for the moment, half of the world’s fleet is in storage. And with the number of travelers trickling down to barely in 100s, most airlines are flying smaller aircraft. Added to that, industry insiders say the big-bodied jetliners such as the Boeing Co. 777 or 787 and Airbus SE A350 or A330, will see deferrals and no buyers in the near future.
A quick and working solution to either restrict the pandemic or offer some form of detection to reassure travelers is direly needed.
The primary goal is to install these sensors on passenger jets, forming a “last line of defense” against security threats," Touzeau said. Koniku has raised $5.5m from investors and employs not more than 20 people, but Airbus has great confidence in its potential and says that together they will create “a game-changing, end-to-end, security solution”.
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