How technology is helping fight the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

Original article can be found here (source): Artificial Intelligence on Medium

How technology is helping fight the COVID-19 pandemic around the world.

With every passing hour, the world continues to grapple with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel Coronavirus that first appeared in China has now spread its web across the globe, affecting many with each passing day. The deadly virus outbreak has, however, prompted innovation and the coming forth of various technologies.

COVID-19 may be having a devastating impact on our industries, social lives, and personal grooming standards, but it is also prompting an outpouring of creativity in other areas.

New technologies are becoming commonplace as scientists and innovators are leaving no stone unturned to contain the spread and the far-reaching effects of COVID-19. At a time when school, colleges, jobs and daily life is at a standstill, technology has already started to make a difference.

From hands-free door openers that can be 3D-printed to basic ventilators, the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new era of urgent innovation.

We’ve come to see some great examples of just how splendorous of a role technology has in today’s world. From using drones for sanitization, using facial recognition tools, healthcare automation services to using robots, apps, machine learning, data science to predict and analyze data on COVID-19. We’re seeing some great ways that tech is being deployed across the world to put an end to the virus and here are some of the examples on how its helping curb the spread of the pandemic.

Ventilators.

For patients with the worst effects of the infection, a ventilator offers the best chance of survival. But with a sudden spike in the increase of the patients around the world, there is an increased demand for these machines.

About 880,000 more ventilators will be needed to deal with the demand caused by the coronavirus outbreak globally, according to a new analysis.

Analytics company GlobalData estimates the US needs about 75,000 ventilators, while France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK collectively require 74,000 devices to make up the gap.

It’s estimated that, of the COVID-19 cases occurring worldwide, about 10% of patients need ventilators.

Researchers and engineers from around the world are trying to come up with low-cost reliable solutions for bridging this gap. Like the rapidly assembled volunteer team of engineers, physicians, computer scientists, and others, centered at MIT, who are working to implement a safe, inexpensive alternative for emergency use, which could be built quickly around the world.

MIT E-Vent Unit 002 Setup, Image: courtesy of the researchers

The new device fits around an Ambu bag (blue), which hospitals already have on hand in abundance. Designed to be squeezed by hand, instead, they are squeezed by mechanical paddles (center) driven by a small motor. This directs air through a tube that is placed in the patient’s airway.

Similarly, an Indian startup called AgVa Healthcare has built a cost-effective portable ventilator. Priced at about $2,000, the AgVa ventilator is a fraction of the price of conventional ventilators. The entire ventilator can be controlled by a capacitive multi-touch interface with extremely simple control. Gesture control lets easy operation without much training. The entire screen can be customized within seconds to display the necessary parameters as per the need of the patient.

https://www.agvahealthcare.com/

Not only small startups but also tech giants like Tesla have jumped on the wagon to deliver similar solutions using parts from their existing car production units.

A Tesla engineer shows off a prototype ventilator that’s made with a Tesla Model 3 display screen. Image courtesy: CNN Business

Drones.

During a pandemic, drones offer a lot of advantages. For one, they can minimize human interactions — preventing viral transmission. In addition, they can speed up transport by as much as 50% compared with regular vehicle road transport. Drones can also be used to reach remote areas more easily and quickly than standard modes of transportation.

Throughout the world, med-tech innovators and scientific researchers are coming together to find innovative ways to use drones to fight COVID-19

In an effort to disinfect public spaces and prevent the further spread of COVID-19, local health authorities have tested out ways to deploy agriculture spraying drones to disinfect these areas more efficiently. Previously used for agriculture, these spraying drones are filled with disinfectants instead of pesticides and are operated to spray the entire public area.

While the effectiveness of this new disinfection process is yet to be measured in a rigorous way, the speed and area covered in the process are unparalleled. Spraying drones can cover 100,000 m2 in an hour with a spraying tank of 16L.

South Delhi Municipal corporation staff use drone to spray disinfectants in Nizamuddin area on Friday. (Photo | Anil Shakya, EPS) New Indian Express.

As we have seen in search and rescue missions across the globe — from spanning deserts to towering cliffs — drones have become powerful tools to visualize expansive areas and communicate in complicated areas.

These same capabilities have been critical to oversee and communicate in dense, urban areas during the panic around COVID-19. With drones, officers can more efficiently scan an area and broadcast a message, such as to put on your mask or remain inside if the area is infected. All while simultaneously keeping officials away from close contact with potentially infected people.

Apps and Online platforms.

As governments in different countries have announced lockdowns, people have resorted to the virtual world. Whether it be fitness related, for educational purposes, professional reasons, or solely for the source of entertainment, the virtual world has welcomed people with open arms, allowing them to escape from the ongoing challenging scenario worldwide. While Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HouseParty, Zoom, WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, and Hotstar have gained major traction and become a constant companion for everyone during the quarantine days, newer apps around Coronavirus have also been developed to help keep your health on track.

One of Zoom’s view options. (Credit: Zoom)

As the number of COVID-19 cases is on the rise governments are using apps to do contact tracing and monitoring of the cases. The Indian government has released an app called “Aarogya Setu” which had already become the world’s highest downloaded app in just 13 days. Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also urged the citizens to download the application in order to keep themselves safe during the pandemic outbreak. Modi also said that the tracking app is an essential tool in the COVID-19 fight and it is possible to use it as an e-pass to facilitate travel from one place to another, according to the Press Trust of India report.

Developed by the National Informatics Centre that comes under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, the ‘Aarogya Setu’ tracking app, which is already available on Google Play Store on Android smartphones and App Store for iPhones, will help track the coronavirus infection by using the smartphone’s GPS system and Bluetooth and provide information that will help in determining if you have been near a COVID-19 infected person or not.

Aarogya Setu App, Image courtesy: https://www.moneycontrol.com/

But cybersecurity experts worry that Aarogya Setu could violate its users’ privacy and be a surveillance tool in the hands of the government.

Artificial Intelligence

On Dec. 31, BlueDot, a Toronto-based company that uses artificial intelligence to track the spread of infectious diseases, alerted its customers about a cluster of unusual pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. Nine days later, the World Health Organization confirmed the discovery of a novel coronavirus, later named COVID-19, in Wuhan.

BlueDot uses a combination of artificial intelligence and human expertise to track the spread of infectious diseases across the globe. Its algorithms consolidate and analyze data from sources including news reports, statements from health organizations, commercial flights, and livestock health reports.

Using machine learning and natural language processing, BlueDot peruses the sea of data to find patterns that might hint at the beginning of an infectious outbreak. The results are then reviewed by a team of experts composed of epidemiologists, doctors, veterinarians, and data scientists, who decide which of the signals need further investigation. The final report is sent out to BlueDot’s customers, such as governments and businesses.

Projects such as the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset, which provides the text of over 24,000 research papers, the COVID-net open-access neural network, which is working to collaboratively develop a system to identify COVID-19 in lung scans, and an initiative asking individuals to donate their anonymized data, represent important efforts by humans to pool data so that AI systems can then sift through this information to identify patterns.

The tracking and forecasting of COVID-19 has caused the emergence of an industry of data dashboards that visualizes the pandemic. MIT Technology Review has produced a ranking of these tracking and forecasting dashboards. They rank the top dashboards to be those of UpCode, NextStrain, the John’s Hopkins’ JHU CSSE, Thebaselab, the BBC, the New York Times, and HealthMap. Other notable dashboards include Microsoft Bing’s AI tracker.

Screenshot from Microsoft’s Bing Covid-19 Dashboard.

Google has also contributed to advancing health research and science by contributing its DeepMind to the latest version of AlphaFold system. AlphaFold is a part of DeepMind’s AI solutions. The goal for the AlphaFold system is to release structure predictions of proteins related to SARS-CoV-2, the virus related to COVID-19. Google’s hope is to contribute to the scientific community’s understanding of how the virus functions. Verily, Alphabet’s health technology solutions company, is developing a body-worn temperature patch that communicates with a phone app to detect a fever to catch an early diagnosis of the flu or COVID-19.

This is a rendering of one of AlphaFolds protein structure predictions of the virus SARS-CoV-2. Protein structure predictions of SARS-CoV-2 may lead to a further understanding of COVID-19 (Image: DeepMind)

Conclusion

Although the tech used in different countries vary, the ultimate goal of adopting these methods are universal; track and contain. Tech companies have started working with healthcare providers to examine data to find a solution. Companies that have had a completely different goal or manufactured products not remotely close to the medical field have, in the matter of a few days, started to produce the supplies we need. During the time of this crisis, we have truly seen the potential of technology and how it can help in finding solutions to these problems rapidly.

If there is any silver lining during this crisis it is that even though we are humans, we can come together and take advantage of technology for the common good of humanity.