How Technology is Being Used to Battle COVID-19 Pandemic

May 16, 2020 | 11 minutes read
Archangel Macsika
How Technology is Being Used to Battle COVID-19 Pandemic - Sikademy

Artificial intelligence, autonomous sterilizing robots, 3D printing, and the rapid development of new technologies are being reappropriated and utilised in ways we've never seen before.

Usually, emerging technologies are held back by infrastructure, financing, and bureaucratic constraints.

But with the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, these new technologies can be put to the test.

You will discover how people around the world are collaborating in using technology to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

3D printing

This is a great example of what can happen when smart technically oriented people come together in a time of need.

Ventilators have become essential in the battle against COVID-19, but health systems around the world are facing shortages.

To address this problem, engineers around the world have set up network communication platforms using technology like Telegram and even Facebook.

Using these platforms, they share information about open-source designs for manufacturing ventilators with 3D printers. Anyone with a 3D printer can collaborate by printing the necessary respirator components.

The goal is to make them available to healthcare services.

In just a few days, a group in Spain were able to buildan open-source respirator prototype. Another Irish open-source Hardware project has produced a prototype ventilator using 3D printed parts and readily available inexpensive materials.

After the project was spun up on Facebook, the design was completed in seven days and attracted the participation of over 300 engineers, medical professionals, and researchers.

Isn't that pretty cool? To add to this, companies such as Tesla, Ford, and General Motors are all pitching in to make ventilators.

Artificial Intelligence

The detection of an outbreak and the issuance of public warnings are critical during pandemics.

BlueDot, a Canadian start-up developed an AI which analyzes news, government reports as well as social media activities in order to track infectious diseases. It even issued a warning before the CDC or the World Health Organization (WHO).

Unfortunately, not many people listened to these warnings.

According to Lindsay Bryson on how BlueDot works:

Understanding what contextual factors make a disease essentially turn into an outbreak and so this means that you need to look at everything from global air travel data but also population data, climate, mosquito data, demographic data as well as a country's ability to respond to an outbreak. So once you combine and layer all those data and those modeling techniques, you can really understand where disease will spread to, and what the impact will be.

Where the speed and accuracy of diagnosis can mean life or death, Jack Ma's Alibaba is coming to the rescue.

The e-commerce giant has developed an AI diagnosis system which processes CT scans with 96% accuracy.

Now, over a hundred clinics are using it.

The tool can do in 20 seconds what it takes a human about 15 minutes because there are hundreds of images to evaluate.

Iran and many other countries are using AI image recognition to diagnose CT scans.

Google's deep mind unit recently used its AI computing power to study public databases in order to guess the structural proteins that likely make up the COVID-19. It then released its findings in an effort to help researchers work towards a cure.

In the same vein, an open-source hardware called Fold at Home is utilizing the power of over 700,000 home gaming computers to calculate and understand exactly how the virus works for the basis of future drugs.

The PCs are run by everyday gamers and all communicate over a network. The combined power of the system is now over 1.5 million, trillion operations per second.

ResApp is a smartphone-based acute respiratory disease diagnostic tests that uses machine learning algorithms to analyze the sound of a patient's cough to treat diseases such as pneumonia and asthma.

They are hoping to use the system in the battle against COVID-19.

Among other things, the United States government have unveiled a portal containing over 29,000 research papers already conducted on the coronavirus.

In a joint effort with Silicon Valley, the tech giants are using their AI tools to crawl through these papers providing new insights about the discoveries of thousands of independent researchers.

Big Data and Tracking: The Battle Between Privacy and Safety

Israel is planning to repurpose its anti-terrorism technology in order to track the spread of the virus. This is pending cabinet approval.

The technology would track the phones of the infected individuals allowing for the government to track their GPS location. They would know exactly who they have come into contact with and where they have been.

The United States government is also engaging in talks with Facebook, Google, and other tech companies to potentially adopt a similar system in the USA.

In Europe the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or forbids the tracking of people's movements and contacts using smartphone location data without consent.

In Asia, things are a little different.

Singapore's Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) has allowed the collection, use, and disclosure of personal data without consent. They say it is to carry out contact tracing and other coronavirus response measures.

Vietnam is tracking locals and foreigners through mobile apps while Thai immigration authorities are using location data to track those arriving in the country.

Call it what you want but this is mass surveillance and definitely poses a serious risk to privacy.

It is an interesting dilemma.

On one hand, you can slow the virus to spread dramatically with accurate and more detailed data than you could have. On the other hand, or it could very easily turn into a backdoor to spy on the masses.

The main problem is when this is all over, will governments give back their powers? The answer is probably no. Then again, aren't all of our governments spying on us anyway?

As I said, it is an interesting dilemma.

Biomedical Technology and Research

Rapid Testing Tools and Procedures

In many countries, researchers and scientists have been scrambling to create rapid testing.

15-minute tests are starting to appear around the world and antibody tests are on the horizon. The latter is going to allow for communities to know who has already had the virus.

Understanding the Genetic Tree of COVID-19

Understanding how this new virus behaves is critical for defining measures that can stop its spread.

Nextstrain is an open-source project that provides data sequencing and visualizations showing how the virus is evolving and if there are any possible mutations that can change its nature.

It is largely understood that the virus has not become more dangerous over time as it's spread. This data goes against the theory of a more deadly strain known as the L-strain that causes more deaths

Robots for Auto Sterilization and Delivery

Clearly, robots aren't susceptible to contracting COVID-19 and as a result, they are being deployed to carry out many tasks such as cleaning, sterilizing, and delivery of food and medicine.

This is all in an effort to reduce human to human contact — social distancing.

Pudu technology, a company that builds catering robots, have sent fleets of their robots to hospitals and hotels around China.

The robots help to serve food to those infected or in quarantine and thereby limiting human interaction.

UVD Robots produced by a company called Blue Ocean Robotics uses ultraviolet light to autonomously kill viruses.

This helps to curb the potential spread to other humans. Consequently, the startup has already sold robots to over 40 countries.

Claus Risager, the CEO of UVD Robots explains:

Our robot uses advanced algorithms and spatial sensors to cover all surfaces with the right amount of virus killing light. With our data, users can see exactly which rooms have been cleared for which bacteria and viruses. According to the company it takes between 10 to 15 minutes to disinfect a room.

When asked if it can effectively kill the coronavirus on surfaces, His reply:

Yes, definitely virus' like Corona has been deactivated by more than 99.999%.

Hong Kong's mass transit railway is now employing vaporized hydrogen peroxide robots to disinfect their trains.

The transit railway services millions of passengers each day and has become a breeding ground for the virus.

These newly acquired deep cleaning robots will be able to reach places that were previously difficult to get to by human hand.

They are also going to be deployed to the locations where COVID-19 patients have been. Then, they will be used to disinfect the area making it safe for human entry.

Before this pandemic, the company had already demonstrated the efficiency of this robot.

The robot was equipped with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in a mist form at the concentration of 150 ppm.

The content was then automatically expelled by the robot on a contaminated surface, and in 15 minutes it was able to kill the virus and several kinds of germs.

Hong Kong is also in the process of testing nano air filtration. This is done to improve the air quality in trains and curb the coronavirus from spreading through the air.

Video Calling and Conferencing Softwares

As most of the world have begun their lockdown stage, video calls are keeping people together. They have become essential tools for dealing with the isolation.

One of the prominent applications is Zoom, which according to the New York Times, received approximately 600,000 downloads in one day at the beginning of the pandemic.

Despite reports of privacy concerns, the application is being used to organize team meetings or to help loved ones stay in touch with one another as well as for school classes.

The last few weeks have borne witness to an unleashing of creativity.

Users have organized concerts, workshops, virtual get-togethers birthday parties, and even weddings.

But out of this use has spawned the phenomena of Zoom Bombing.

Zoom bombing is where a person hacks into an ongoing school class or business meeting only to display the most inappropriate imagery imaginable.

While it may range from mildly amusing to truly disappointing, it really is just trolls and black-hat hackers trying to find a new way to amuse themselves in the age of COVID-19.

Worth Mentioning - Low Tech but Effective

Face Masks

Face masks might be the most low-tech solution of all, but it is very effective.

Researchers at Cambridge University tested a wide range of household materials for use in homemade masks.

To measure effectiveness, they shot bacteria and virus spores into different materials and measured the results. As it turned out, vacuum cleaner bags are 95% effective, and a dish towel is 83% effective.

Face masks also reduce the potential spread of the asymptomatically infected.

Recent research at MIT and Stanford has shown that when we speak, little saliva or micro-droplets come flying out of our mouth at about six feet or more.

Those droplets can contain millions of particles of the virus if it is from an infected individual.

So, not wearing a mask puts the uninfected members of a community at risk.

Of course, it should be stressed that people should not go out and hoard masks, taking them away from medical professionals.

Wrapping Up

While this outbreak looks like it is causing severe havoc, it is not unbeatable.

Humanity has persevered through difficult times. The way some countries are working together to stop this pandemic is uplifting to see.

Scientists and researchers no longer have geographical boundaries and the world are starting to put all of this recent technology to very good use.

So, in concluding, remember to practice social distancing, use face masks, and wash your hands frequently.

Hopefully, at the end of all of this, we can become better prepared for the future.

We can use this crisis as a lesson to learn how to better organize our supply chains, global communications, health management systems, and also gain a new respect for those essential to our society.

What are your thoughts on these tech innovations and which is your favourite?

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