Kadena conducts COVID-19 testing

The Pima Association of Governments's Regional Partnering Center is collaborating with the University of Arizona's Center for Innovation to launch an "innovation challenge" to design a safe testing booth for COVID-19 to be used at local hospitals. The innovation challenge is open to members of the community to quickly develop an outdoor medical consultation and testing booth for hospitals to safely triage patients for COVID-19 and conserve scarce medical protective equipment.

While UA and PAG have connections with researchers and developers, this public challenge was formed in order to cast “as wide a net as possible.”

“There’s a lot of value in the variance of approach that innovators use to solve problems,” said Eric Smith, executive director for the UA Center for Innovation. “Of course we have some of the top researchers in the world, but our community also has some true innovators – both individuals and companies – that are doing this daily in the marketplace. And I think a solution like this requires both trains of thought: the academic mindset and those in the community who have experience integrating products quickly.”

Proposals should address how the teams will develop their plans, specifications and a plan to develop an operational manual for the safe infectious disease testing booths. The proposals will then be reviewed by a panel of developers in the industrial and engineering fields. The Regional Partnering Center will provide the winner with funding to help cover the cost of preparing the plans, specifications and manual.

The goal for these triage booths is to protect healthcare providers and address a lack of healthcare equipment. As the potential constructs are separate from the hospital, this would reduce the need for medical workers to change their protective equipment as often, simplify public COVID-19 testing, and act similar to a clean room.

The Regional Partnering Center provided an example of a similar quick-build COVID-19 triage design in South Korea, where a hospital "introduced phone booth-style coronavirus testing facilities that allow medical staff to quickly examine patients safely from behind a plastic panel."

“As part of the submission, we’re also asking them to tell us what resources they have available, and what timeline is reasonable from them to be able to complete their design,” said PAG executive director Farhad Moghimi. “Ideally we’re looking for someone who can get it done as quickly as possible and recognize the urgency of it, so that will be a factor in our decision-making process… It is a purely technical solution at this point.”

Proposals to the Regional Partnering Center are due by 5 p.m. April 3, and Moghimi hopes to have a team working on them as early as April 10.

The Regional Partnering Center is also currently seeking business partners throughout the community who can help fund prototypes and additional construction of these testing booths. The design for these booths is also planned to be made open source for other hospitals and communities.

“Ideally our goal is to make it available publically, so that anyone who is able to and has their own funding can use that information to build a portable facility on their own,” Moghimi said. “It’s a moral responsibility at this point. Anything we come up with, we have to share.”

Based on inquiries UA and PAG have already received about the challenge, design submissions may come from groups both in and out of the university setting.

“There’s been some significant interest in this, because as you can imagine, everyone wants to help out,” Moghimi said. “It’s really heartwarming to see everyone reaching out and offering support and offering anything they can do.”

According to Smith, this collaboration highlights both organizations’ broader goals: supporting the local economy and improving quality of life in the region.

“When this opportunity came across my desk, there was no question that this is something we should support,” Smith said. “Our mission, through our work, is to fuel the Southern Arizona economy. What we do with growing startup companies and putting them in the community and helping to connect innovators is all to increase our community’s prosperity.”

Proposals may be submitted via email to info@PAGregion.com. Proposals should be no more than two pages and include an executive summary, a list of the primary team members and the team’s capacity to meet the challenge. For more information, visit pagregion.com