Apply for the 2018 R&D 100 Awards

COBRA - Metabolic Fuel & Energy Sensor, from MIT Lincoln Laboratory, was a 2017 R&D 100 Award winner. The winners were announced at The R&D 100 Awards Gala held in Orlando, Florida on Nov. 17, 2017. See the full list of 2017 R&D 100 Award Winners here.

The R&D 100 Awards have served as the most prestigious innovation awards program for the past 56 years, honoring R&D pioneers and their revolutionary ideas in science and technology.

Submissions for the 2018 R&D 100 Awards are now being accepted. Any new technical product or process that was first available for purchase or licensing between January 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, is eligible for entry in the 2018 awards. Entries for the R&D 100 Awards can be entered under five general product categories— Mechanical Devices/ Materials, IT/Electrical, Analytical/Test, Process/Prototyping, and Software/Services.

The deadline is July 2, 2018.

To apply visit:

Scientists have created a monitoring device that gives users an immediate updates to their metabolic energy usage and other trackable statistics using the breath.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Lincoln Laboratory have developed the Carbon dioxide/Oxygen Breath and Respiration Analyzer (COBRA), a passive, proportional and side-stream sampling scheme that enables slow and low-cost O₂ and CO₂ gas sensors to quantify a user’s metabolic health. COBRA was a 2017 R&D 100 Award recipient.

The wireless, low-cost breath sensor can determine foundational metabolic health and performance metrics such as metabolic heat production, work intensity, and aerobic fitness, as well as the relative fraction of energy derived from oxidation of fats versus carbohydrates, and associated metrics, such as tidal volume, minute volume, volume of oxygen, and volume of carbon dioxide.

Gary Shaw, principal investigator on the Lincoln Laboratory’s COBRA team, said in an interview with R&D Magazine that measuring these types of metrics using COBRA will allow individuals to assess the impact of diet and exercise choices, better control their blood glucose levels, and achieve weight loss and aerobic fitness goals. The technology may also someday be used to prevent diseases like diabetes.

 “We got started in this because we were kind of dumbfounded at the rates of obesity and diabetes in the country,” Shaw said. “In a generation or two we’ve suddenly gotten into this unhealthy metabolic routine. It seems to be related to the changes in our diet, what the available foods are and highly processed foods.

“This gives you a quantitative number that you can then use to adjust lifestyle choices to get into the zone where you want to be and right now that doesn’t really exist,” he added.

Since the early 20th century, scientists have been using indirect calorimetry (IC) to calculate individual energy expenditure and metabolic rates, which measures the ratio of carbon dioxide to oxygen in exhaled breath. This ratio can be used to measure the levels of carbohydrates and fats being used by the body to meet the metabolic energy needs.

While this technology exists, it is generally used in clinical or professional settings because the systems are currently expensive, cumbersome and complex to calibrate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of the adult population in the U.S. is considered obese, while nearly 50 percent are either pre-diabetic or diabetic.  

Shaw said that a personal metabolic unit that could help unhealthy people forge more healthy life decisions.

COBRA could also prove beneficial to amateur athletes, such as high school students, who are looking to train better, he added.

“I think early adopters of this technology would be some of the amateur athletes,” Shaw said. “Right now professional athletes use commercial systems, the problem is those systems are expensive.”

Shaw explained that there are still more features and uses of COBRA that could be developed.

“From my perspective, the things that we’ve yet to prove with this are some of the exciting things,” he said. “We think that by having this kind of sensor available it is a way of understanding, potentially, your blood glucose levels and [identifying] pre-diabetes without having to prick your finger and take blood samples.

“If you had a sensor like this you can adjust your meals and adjust your exercise to see if your blood sugar is out of control or if you are keeping your blood sugar low and therefore you are able to burn fat as an energy source,” he added.

COBRA was developed in collaboration with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and the Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad to enable soldiers in the field to measure their energy expenditure. Shaw explained that the army is also currently conducting an independent review of the technology before it is implemented in the field.

He said in the meantime the research team is looking to improve the product before it is eventually commercialized.

“We are continuing to refine the calibration and performance of the sensor,” Shaw said. “We are working with a commercial company to develop the next generation with high performance parts and improved measurement capability.”