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Voice-Activated System For Safer Lab Work

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Voice-Activated System For Safer Lab Work

Researchers have developed a voice-activated system that helps scientists work on contagious microorganisms without any fear of being infected.

Voice-activated system for hands-free, safer DNA handling. Credit : ACS Sensors

A smart system can surely boost one’s productivity. But that’s not all, it also reduces the risks which are to be avoided by that individual. Consider a scientist working on a contagious substance, he is meant to unfold the mystery of that very substance yet he also needs to keep his distance in order to be safe from being infected by it. This idea of developing smart and voice-activated devices is being highly anticipated due to the recent events of virus outbreaks.

Scientists working with samples containing pathogens need to work with the smallest amounts possible to avoid accidental infection. And for highly contagious bacterial diseases, on-site sample analysis is ideal for rapid diagnosis. In addition, scientists who have visual or other physical impairments may find it difficult to operate complex instruments, especially those designed for tiny volumes. Hands-free devices that operate quickly through voice commands could make this process easier and safer.

A team of researchers at ACS Sensors have developed a microfluidic chip with multiple chambers linked together by six 3-way solenoid valves, which were operated by a micro-controller connected to a Bluetooth module. The palm-sized device weighed only 11 ounces and could be powered by a portable battery or a 5V smartphone charger. Then, using existing speech recognition software, the team customized a smartphone app to listen for specific voice commands.

Once a user says one of the operation commands out loud, the app wirelessly sends an initiation signal to the micro-controller. After receiving the signal, the micro-controller automatically starts a series of steps, including sample loading, washing and releasing the purified DNA into a collection chamber. The system currently requires the user to touch the smartphone to provide an input command for speech recognition, but researchers are working on developing on making the entire process hands-free.

When tested, the voice-controlled device extracted DNA from Salmonella Typhimurium, purifying a 10-µL sample with an efficiency of 70% in less than a minute. Although the system had a lower performance than a traditional DNA extraction kit, the researchers say that its voice control, portability and quick automation give it an advantage for convenient and safe bacterial DNA testing.