Sensing Challenges: Nokia’s XChallenge Move Micro-Diagnostic Systems Into the Spotlight

By David Chandler

NOTE: This is an overview of the entire article, which appeared as an March/April 2014 IEEE Pulse online article
Click here to read the entire article.

The Nokia Sensing XChallenge is a 2.25 million global competition launched in 2012 as a way of promoting the creation of new diagnostic sensor systems that would be portable, non-invasive, inexpensive, and simple to use. These sensor systems could be used in many facets of health: to track the spread of disease, monitor our exposure to environmental factors, assess our mental state, and give us a complete picture of our state of being.

The Nokia Sensing XChallenge competition consists of two rounds, the first of which was completed in October 2013. Teams can choose from an array of research areas eligible for the challenge, but multi-use devices or ones that can easily be integrated with others, are highly encouraged. The devices can cover virtually any health-relevant parameter, including biosensors that can detect specific compounds in a biological sample; imaging systems of all kinds (e.g., ultrasound, radiological, and MRI); environmental monitors that could detect pathogens, allergens, or pollutants in air and water; motion-tracking to monitor physical activity and condition; behavioral monitoring; or physiological monitoring such as tracking vital signs.

The article highlights three of the twelve teams selected as finalists in the “Challenge 1” round: the Houston-based team called Programmable-Bio-Nano-Chip; InSilixa, based in Sunnyvale, California; and ABUS-urodynamics, based in Hokkaido, Japan.

John McDevitt, Brown-Wiess Professor of Bioengineering and Chemistry at Rice University, leads the Programmable-Bio-Nano-Chip (PBNC) team aiming for full-scale integration of every kind of diagnostic capability. The PBNC concept is a standardized low-cost module that could be adapted to any of a whole suite of tests.

By creating what they call a “microfluidic tool kit,” they hope to encourage others to develop new functions for a set of standardized data recording and logging systems.

Arjang Hassibi, heads up the InSilixa team. Hassibi is an IEEE Senior Member and founder and CEO of InSilixa Inc. His company develops lab-on-a-chip devices. The new biochips can take just a tiny drop of blood or saliva to perform an array of tests. “It’s so inexpensive, a few dollars, that it does the sensing and then you throw it away,” says Hassibi.

Yasuhito Takeuchi is working with Seiji Matsumoto on the ABUS-urodynamics team based at Asahikawa Medical University in Hokkaido, Japan. The two researchers developed a real time, remote contact-less measurement system for bladder pressure using a tiny wireless capsule telemetry device. They have also tested the device to measure cardiographic signals in animals and are planning human trials.


David L. Chandler was a science writer for the Boston Globe for 20 years, and has also written for Nature, Wired, New Scientist, Smithsonian, Astronomy, Technology Review, the Atlantic, and many other publications. He is the author of “Life on Mars,” as well as portions of other books. He presently works for the MIT News Office as well as freelancing.