Taiwan Advanced Instrumentation Project drives commercialization of 10 research achievements

Sandy Du, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0

A presentation to showcase the achievements of Taiwan Advanced Instrumentation Project (TAIP) took place in Taipei recently. As part of the government's Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, TAIP is aimed at promoting Taiwan's independent R&D, manufacture and utilization of advanced instruments and exploring opportunities for their commercialization.

Keynote speakers at the event included: Chau-Hwang Lee, deputy executive secretary, Academia Sinica; Howard S Lee, chairman, Taho Pharma; and Yi-Sheng Wang, principal investigator, TAIP. Among the audience were participants from industries, venture capital funds, academic institutions and research organizations.

TAIP's advisory committee - headed by James C Liao, president, Academia Sinica, and a group of experts - selected 10 research projects in consideration of marketability, national policy and public interest. In three years of operation since its establishment in 2017, aside from making capital investments to enable prototyping and field testing, TAIP has also provided a diversity of services including startup incubation in an effort to promote and drive research results to commercialization while building a complete industry ecosystem step by step and fostering high-caliber research talent. The event marked successful completion of TAIP's short-term objectives.

The 10 selected research projects generated 10 instruments based on a diverse combination of measuring technologies and device designs. They form a series of viable and commercializable solutions to fully address challenges in drug testing, disease screening, environmental pollutant analysis, public safety and long-term healthcare. These solutions, showcased at the event, are highlighted below.

Portable mass spectrometer, liquid chromatography system and liquid chromatography mass spectrometer

Mass spectrometers are fundamental to chemical analysis. A TAIP team developed patented innovative mass spectrometers and related instruments that feature lightweight, convenience, usability, low cost and easy maintenance to enable testing and measurement anytime anywhere. The team's patented ionization device is much smaller and lighter, making it particularly suitable for detecting narcotics and explosives. The team has also designed a portable liquid chromatography system that flexibly accommodates use by different types of laboratories.

Rapid saliva drug screening instrument

A TAIP team presented a rapid saliva drug screening device that can simultaneously identify multiple common illegal substances including amphetamine, heroin and ecstasy to allow a quick assessment of suspected drug abuse during a crackdown operation. It resolves the privacy concerns and inconveniences of traditional urine drug tests. Comprising a disposable saliva collection container, a test cartridge and an automatic reader, the test takes only 10 minutes to complete, significantly reducing law enforcement officers' time and effort and expedites drug testing processes.

Rapid drug testing instrument and cloud database for analytics

A TAIP team proposed a rapid drug testing instrument based on Raman spectroscopy with compelling cost advantage. It helps front-line law enforcement avoid false positive assessments on whether the substances are actually illegal drugs. Moreover, the team makes use of machine learning to build a cloud analytics database that aims to effectively identify new types of drugs with constantly changing chemical compositions. Characteristics data are processed by a low-dimensional classifier to effectively determine the type of drug. The solution is also suitable for biomedical, pharmaceutical, food science and environmental monitoring applications.

High-resolution ion mobility spectrometer

A TAIP team's patented Periodical Focusing Differential Ion Mobility Spectrometer (PFDIMS) performs high-resolution ion analysis even without a perfect vacuum. It can be a portable and cost-effective device not only for detecting narcotics and explosives anytime anywhere but also for measuring creatinine and carbohydrate levels to screen diseases and biomarkers.

Mobile terahertz scanner for security inspection

A TAIP team incorporated terahertz imaging onto a portable imaging device to scan lightweight materials such as clothing, mail and plastics. Comprising an automatic feeder, a sorting apparatus, and a terahertz imaging device, the system automatically processes large amounts of mail loaded on a conveyor belt and screens out suspicious articles using AI-based image recognition, which are then further identified and sorted based on the types of contrabands.

Wide-field 3D scanning for long-term care, enhanced with AI-based recognition technologies

A TAIP team designed a thermal imaging care system that combines wide-field thermal scanning and thermal AI motion behavior identification technologies. It serves as a home care solution that delivers the benefits of protecting privacy while enabling cost advantage. Featuring AI-based prediction and analysis, the system can identify movements such as going to bed, getting out of bed, sitting or lying in bed for a long period and falling to enable timely and precise care services not only for home care but also for use at public spaces and factories.

Optoproteomics instrument

Combining photochemistry and AI-based image recognition, a TAIP team is able to use precise photochemical reactions for protein positioning and labeling and then perform analysis under a mass spectrometer to determine the protein composition. The solution is an instrument that allows the identification of proteins in critical regions of cells under a microscope. It is expected to be indispensable for next-generation protein research and play a critical role driving advances in precision medicine and targeted therapy development.

Active low-frequency acoustic pipeline safety monitoring system

By actively emitting low-frequency acoustic signals and performing time/frequency domain analyses and diagnoses on the acoustic signals using machine learning AI, a TAIP team's solution detects pipeline leak or provides an early warning. It addresses the continuity, long-distance and real-time safety monitoring needs for commercial pipelines transporting oil, natural gas, industrial liquid or water with enhanced capability to locate pipeline leak and detect pipeline degradation.

Microarray X-ray phase-shift imaging

Using a high-power electron beam to hit a microarray of metal targets to generate multiple X-ray sources, coupled with innovative phase-shift imaging technologies for image reconstruction, a TAIP team's solution can considerably enhance the resolution of X-ray images. The new technology can differentiate among muscles, blood vessels and fat tissues to raise the accuracy of doctors' diagnoses of lung or breast tumors.

High-end chemical composition analyzer for PM2.5 aerosols

A TAIP team combined a micro aerosol mass spectrometer and an ultra-sensitive off-axis integrated cavity output spectroscopy in one device, coupled with its self-developed adjustable pneumatic sample inlet system, for precise particle collection. Featuring an excellent signal-to-noise ratio and easy deployment on mobile utility vehicles, the complete system can be used to conduct field measurements in outdoor environments for real-time and on-spot PM2.5 tracking and monitoring. It can also analyze the chemical composition, i.e. molecular structure, of the pollutant to find the source of air pollution.

The instruments targeting applications in wide-ranging sectors make use of varying technologies to overcome barriers in particle analysis, spectroscopy or antibody screening. They can effectively and significantly reduce false negatives and false positives, which is critical for drug detection.

Four startup firms have been incorporated out of the 10 teams and they will accelerate the pace of commercializing their products over the next two to three years. Enterprise executives approached the teams and expressed interest in placing orders for their products at the event, which marked a good start for Taiwan's advanced instrument industry.

Guests attending TAIP's achievement presentation photographed with the TAIP research teams

TAIP's achievement presentation
Photo: Sandy Du, Digitimes, November 2020