A new smartphone system to identify respiratory disorders

Spiro-smart technology

Researchers at the University of Washington have just developed an application called “SpiroSmart” which, relying solely on the iPhone’s microphone, can detect respiratory diseases such as bronchitis or cystic fibrosis. Once the application is installed, the user simply blows towards the microphone.

Respiratory disorder illustration

These so-called sound signals are then transmitted and analyzed thanks to a specific algorithm that calculates the real respiratory flow (volume and flow of inspired and exhaled air). This makes it possible to accurately detect possible respiratory problems, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, or chronic bronchitis. The researchers found that they could model a person’s trachea and vocal tract to replace the traditional spirometer. The researchers tested the system on 52 healthy volunteers, using an iPhone 4S smartphone and its built-in microphone. The results showed that this system was true as reliable as a portable spirometer, which is much more expensive.

A new system coupled with a smartphone can quickly and efficiently detect the presence of viruses that cause equine respiratory infectious diseases from nasal swab samples. This technology could be applicable to equivalent human diseases, such as COVID-19. Accurate, rapid, and specific detection of infectious pathogens can be crucial for epidemiological surveillance and, on a smaller scale, for patient management in both humans and animals.

The availability of rapid and accurate screening tests is essential to control an epidemic, particularly respiratory, and limit its spread. In addition, many upper respiratory tract diseases cause similar clinical signs or co-infections (e.g. equine influenza and HVE-1 or HVE-4 herpesvirus); having a reliable diagnosis allows the implementation of effective therapeutic strategies.

With this in mind, researchers have developed a new system that uses a smartphone camera to rapidly detect and identify equine and potentially human respiratory viruses like COVID-19.


The system detects viral RNA found in nasal swabs, which is amplified by a silicon chip and fluorescently labeled. And several compartments of the chip test for different viruses. Smartphone cameras can then visualize this fluorescence. A green light = presence of the virus. In just 30 minutes, the chip can detect a viral presence, test for multiple pathogens simultaneously, and identify the culprit, all with a smartphone and a chip the size of a SIM card.

While this test was developed and approved initially to detect equine respiratory viruses (equine influenza, HVE-1 and -4, Streptococcus equi subspecies), the applications are not limited to this. Researchers see it, among other things, as a great help in the detection of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 to limit the current pandemic. This new tool could find a niche in the battle against numerous viruses and in several organisms.

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