Research and Development

Variable Works with NASA to Rapidly Develop Covid-19 Detection Device

Photo: NASA/Ames Research Center/Dominic Hart


Variable, Inc. was awarded a NASA subcontract to prototype a NASA COVID-19 detection device called the E-Nose in 2020. Variable successfully produced the electronics and packaging for it along with a paired mobile app for the agency to test its nanosensor array technology developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center for the detection of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in COVID-19 patient’s breath.


Variable is known around the world for their reliable and accurate color communication tools like the patented Color Muse® and Spectro 1 devices. The team has a specialized skill set in developing new sensor technology, building on a history of creating devices that could detect temperatures and complex gases among other components.


Variable founder and Chief Executive Officer, George Yu, Ph.D., got his start as a NASA subcontractor developing a device funded by the Department of Homeland Security that enabled smartphones to detect harmful gases using the agency’s nanosensor technology. The past project had a tight window for completion, and Yu earned a reputation for himself by rapidly producing a successful prototype. When NASA reached out to their workforce in April 2020 for innovative solutions to help in the fight against COVID-19, an Ames scientist, Dr. Jing Li, the principal investigator of the project at Ames, contacted Yu.


NASA was looking for a team that could build a device to detect a distinctive COVID-19 fingerprint from a list of VOCs in breath. When humans are sick, they release unique VOCs in their breath. This new device could run tests to determine what the VOC pattern from virus infection might be by using its specialized nanosensor array. Instruments with the capability to detect harmful gases are typically bulky and designed for laboratory use; however, the E-Nose is hand-held.


Scientists are still discovering new strains of COVID-19 and the outcome of this project is still largely unknown. However, Variable is committed to working with NASA and providing its resources and expertise to advance the agency’s nanosensor technology surrounding instant detection of the virus.


“We are incredibly honored to have this opportunity to work with NASA and feel strongly about this project because our nation and the world is in need,” said Yu. “If we are able to be of any help, we want to do our part with the abilities we can offer our country.”


About Variable, Inc.


Founded in 2012, Variable, Inc. is the global leader in mobile-paired spectrophotometers and colorimeters. Its patented technology enables users to accurately, affordably, and effortlessly communicate color within a wide variety of industries from paint and coatings to print and design to textiles and fashion and more. Variable produces devices such as the Color Muse, Color Muse SE, Spectro 1, and Spectro 1 Pro. Each is supported by Variable Cloud software and paired with custom apps for both iOS and Android. With these apps, users can scan and match to more than 500,000 different colors and items from house-hold brands around the world.