young innovator

Houston student creates innovative mobile medical lab for rapid COVID-19 testing

Taft Foley III, an 18-year-old high school senior, co-founded Texas Mobile Medical Labs. Photo courtesy of Texas Mobile

An 18-year old high school senior from the Houston area mobilized his medical knowledge as one of the youngest EMTs in Texas and co-founded a mobile lab which can provide COVID-19 results in 15 minutes.

Texas Mobile Medical Labs was created to counteract testing delays that bogged down how quickly patients received results. The mobile lab currently operates in a van and a tent outside a community center in the Post Oak area for patients who prefer to come to them. For those that can't, the mobile lab can travel to any patient or business location for employee testing in the Houston area after they set up an appointment.

"This summer I become an EMT, training at the Texas EMS Academy in Corpus Christi," says Taft Foley III, co-founder of Texas Mobile Medical Labs. "When I got back to Houston I was asked to take a COVID-19 test, but I was met with a line that wrapped around the entire building and took two hours just to get inside."

According to Foley, that spurred him into finding a better way to get results to people quickly.

"I did my research and found a better alternative to increase testing and reduce waiting times," says Taft. "The antigen test works in 15 minutes, which makes them amenable to point-of-care use. That's when I really got the idea of going out to our patients for the test so that they don't have to leave home."

The tests are performed with a nasal swab, which then detects a viral protein in an actively infected person, giving accurate and fast results.

Antigens are molecules capable of stimulating an immune response. The SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 has several known antigens including its nucleocapsid phosphoprotein and spike glycoprotein, which are the visible protrusions on its surface.

Antigen tests reveal if a person is currently infected with a pathogen such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Once the infection is gone, the antigen disappears.

Although antigen tests typically have lower sensitivity than a traditional PCR test, that detects the virus through its genetic material, they provide tests rapidly and are relatively cheaper to produce.

"Getting this test to as many people as possible as fast as possible is essential," says Taft. "People need to know whether or not they need to stay home and if they're at risk of spreading the virus to others."

The results are sent to patients via text message or email, giving individuals peace of mind quickly if they are not infected and allowing those with COVID-19 to quarantine themselves and those they have exposed.

The test cost ranges from $100 to $150 for individuals, according to their website, depending on if testers would like to go to their tent location or take advantage of their mobile lab. While they currently do not accept insurance, most insurance companies will reimburse some or all of the cost of the test.

You can reach the Texas Mobile Medical lab at (936) 333-3333 if you have COVID-19 symptoms and would like to schedule an appointment for testing.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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