The Institute - December 2019 - 8


But testing wastewater samples can be
an expensive, time-consuming job. Biobot
Analytics, a startup in Somerville, Mass.,
that was spun out of MIT in 2017, is working
to improve the process with its collection,
measurement, and analysis service.
Biobot uses portable devices to collect
wastewater samples, which it analyzes in
the laboratory. The company uses the
resulting data to create spatial maps and
charts that can illustrate which neighborhoods have high concentrations of a
particular substance.
Biobot's approach can be used to look
at lots of different compounds. But so far
the company is focusing on opioid metabolites from prescription pain relievers
and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
Metabolites are byproducts of the body
metabolizing a drug. They are reliable indicators of whether a person has ingested
or injected an opioid.
"Right now our focus is just analyzing
for opioids, because opioid addiction is
a major public health crisis," says IEEE
Member Irene Hu, a hardware electronics engineer at Biobot.
Around 68 percent of the more than
70,200 U.S. drug-overdose deaths in
2017 involved an opioid, according to
the federal Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.
Biobot has partnered with Cary, N.C.,
to help town officials assess the scope of
its opioid epidemic, allocate resources,
and then gauge the effectiveness of their
efforts over time.

Biobot last year began a pilot with
Cary, North Carolina's seventh-largest
municipality, with about 162,000 citizens. Last year 11 people in Cary died
and about 60 others overdosed on opioids-a 70 percent increase from the previous year.
Biobot works with the town to identify
which catchment basins and associated
manholes they want to survey. At the


DEC 2019



chosen manholes, a samBIOBOT IS FOCUSING ON ONE
pling bot is suspended by a
rope so it sits just above the
water. The bot houses filters,
a pump, sensors, and other
helped researchers determine a baseline
hardware. Sewage is pumped through level of opioid consumption.
a series of filters-which bind the comThe reports that Biobot provides to Cary
pounds of interest-and then out again officials include comparisons of reported
during a 24-hour period.
overdoses-which the city already collects
A city worker collects the filters, which from first responders-and the levels of
are sent to the company. Back in the Biobot opioids that were found in the sewers.
lab, analysts use mass spectrometry and Presented as spatial maps of the city
other techniques to scan the filters for with blocks corresponding to the sam16 different opioid metabolites.
pled catchment areas, the comparisons
In Cary, samples were extracted from allow the city to visualize and identify
200,000 gallons of wastewater that flowed "hidden" areas of consumption that are
through 10 sample areas-gathering infor- not captured by the officially reported
mation from neighborhoods of about overdoses, Hu says. For example, prelimroughly 5,000 homes each. The results inary results showed that opioids were


Study claims university curricula
overprioritize the needs
of large companies


oday's software engineering programs teach students
traditional skills tailored to
large employers-subjects
such as software processes,
software analysis, project management,
and software management. But startups
and next-gen technology companies
expect a dynamic and in-depth understanding of the software ecosystem and
its tools from new graduates. They want
grads who can build scalable systems
and program for large-scale, distributed,
data-intensive systems that leverage
cloud computing.
Unfortunately, the standard software
engineering curriculum-even at toptier schools-places little emphasis on

those skills, according to IEEE Senior
Member Nitish M. Devadiga.
Devadiga is the author of "Software
Engineering Education: Converging With
the Startup Industry." The study, published
in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, compares
the current state of software engineering
education at various universities with the
needs of technology-based software startup
companies. Between 2015 and 2017 he
conducted interviews with Boston-area
startups about their development cycles,
deployment processes, engineering practices, engineering roles, code management,
hiring requirements, and infrastructure.
He also reviewed the core courses
offered in software engineering programs
as well as the 15 knowledge areas covered

The Institute - December 2019

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