At-home COVID-19 tests could be more affordable thanks to your smartphone

The SmaRT-LAMP system promises to be nearly as accurate as a PCR test.

Yves Herman / reuters

Ever since the omicron variant arrived in the US, there’s been a testing shortage in the country. Stuck between long lines at dedicated clinics and overly expensive at-home tests, many Americans have understandably given up the idea of getting tested to ensure they’re not sick with COVID-19. However, a solution to some of those problems could be on the way.

University of California, Santa Barbara

In a newly published paper spotted by Gizmodo, researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, detailed a system you can start using for about $100 should you already have access to a relatively modern phone. What’s more, they say early results show their process is nearly as accurate as a PCR test (and thankfully doesn’t involve tickling your brain).

In its current iteration, the system involves downloading the team’s Bacticount app to your phone, as well as making use of a hot plate and a cardboard box with a LED light. When you need to test yourself, you place a saliva sample onto a testing kit that costs about $7. You then drop a reactive solution that makes it easier for your phone’s rear camera to detect any viral RNA in the sample. The solution turns a bright red as it bonds with the viral material in your saliva. The Bacticount app then conducts a real-time analysis based on how quickly the solution turns red.

As you might imagine, there’s still plenty of work to be done before you can start using the SmaRT-LAMP test at home. The initial study is based on a small sample size involving 50 symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. Moreover, the Bacticount app is so far only optimized to work with the Samsung Galaxy S9. Still, the system shows promise. While it was developed primarily to aid with testing in places that don’t have access to adequate resources, Dr. Michael Mann, the lead researcher on the project, told Gizmodo that it could be adapted for at-home use. He also said it could be modified to detect new COVID-19 variants and other pathogens like the flu.