Eight WHL teams will be participating in exam trials for a new smartphone-based COVID-19 diagnostic test, including the Prince George Cougars.

Light AI Inc has announced an agreement with the league to complement the return-to-play health and safety protocols with a trial of the test, which is AI-powered.

Since the hockey season began in January, the WHL has implemented “enhanced screening” for players, team staff, billets, and officials during the condensed season.

Players are being tested once per week using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) exam, and the diagnostic test will run concurrently to compare for accuracy.

“Originally developed as a rapid diagnostic test for strep throat, the Light AI team pivoted their research at the onset of the pandemic,” said CEO Peter Whitehead adding the test is non-invasive and does not need a swab.

Users will download the app to their smartphones and enable the phone’s camera function to take a picture of the inside of the user’s mouth.

The image is then uploaded to the app server, where an artificial intelligence algorithm analyzes it for signs of COVID-19.

Results are sent back to the user, along with instructions in the case of a positive test result, and then each image will be verified by PCR testing.

“We believe that components of artificial intelligence, including convolutional neural networks, deep learning, and predictive analytics, are the technologies most likely to create significant breakthroughs in our ability to identify and manage a wide variety of diseases, including COVID-19,” said Whitehead.

Whitehead says they believe the test, if successful, will allow venues like markets, sporting events, offices, sporting events, and theatres to return to normal.

“All of the necessities and amenities we’ve been missing since lockdown began,” he said.

The development of Light AI’s COVID-19 test began in 2016 when Whitehead began leveraging AI to create a rapid diagnostic test for strep throat.

The strep throat test is currently able to differentiate streptococcal infections from viral infections with about 96% accuracy, he says.

“Using the database we collected and curated for strep throat, in addition to images taken of throats infected with COVID-19, we were able to demonstrate that sore throats caused by viruses – including COVID-19 – display a distinct signature that can be captured by a smartphone camera and uploaded to our cloud-based server for analysis,” said Whitehead.

The trial officially launched in the third week of March and all 17 Canadian teams in the WHL have been invited to participate.