- Google cancels its April Fools’ Day jokes
- Formula One teams join the fight against COVID-19
- Germany sends a flying hospital to pick up Italian coronavirus patients
- Coronavirus pandemic moves houses of worship online
- X.Labs unveils Feevr AI screening and temperature detection system
- VR game teaches children how to stay safe during the pandemic
- Disposable patch allows doctors to monitor patients remotely
- Udacity offers free tech courses to workers who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic
- Qure.ai’s automated chest X-ray interpretation solution can detect signs of COVID-19
- Bored in quarantine? Why not take a virtual museum tour?
The global coronavirus catastrophe is leaving millions vulnerable. It’s leading to companies closing shop, collapsing supply chains, economies derailing, and city after city facing lockdown. This unanticipated disaster is causing scientists to scramble for solutions, and government authorities and medical staff the world over are turning to technology, such as AI identifying potential treatments and robots disinfecting hospitals. We are also seeing incredible initiatives and creative ways in which to deal with this sudden new reality, giving us reason for a little optimism and hope. Our live blog will deliver daily, inspiring updates about new corona-related tech developments, so do stay tuned!
Google cancels its April Fools’ Day jokes
Over the years, Google has performed a number of elaborate pranks on April Fools’ Day that spanned across the company’s product portfolio. While some people enjoyed these jokes and thought of them as harmless fun, others were less than enthusiastic and repeatedly called on Google to scrap them. Well, this year they got what they wanted. In light of the seriousness of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Google has decided to cancel its April Fools’ Day plans for 2020. “This year, we’re going to take the year off from that tradition out of respect for all those fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” writes Google’s head of marketing Lorraine Twohill in an internal email. “Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one.”
Formula One teams join the fight against COVID-19
As the world struggles to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, governments from all over the world are calling on companies from all industries to join the fight and help save lives by manufacturing medical equipment that is increasingly in short supply. Answering the call of the UK government, seven UK-based Formula One teams — McLaren, Williams, Mercedes-AMG, Renault, Red Bull Racing, Haas, and Racing Point — have come together to launch Project Pitlane. The project will see the teams apply their engineering expertise to produce more ventilators, which are required to treat the most severe cases of COVID-19 infection. “F1’s unique ability to rapidly respond to engineering and technological challenges allows the group to add value to the wider engineering industry’s response,” reads an F1 statement. There will be three main areas of focus: reverse engineering existing ventilators, ramping up the production of existing designs, and creating new prototypes that could be mass produced quickly.
Germany sends a flying hospital to pick up Italian coronavirus patients
If there’s one good thing to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that we’re seeing some remarkable displays of humanity and solidarity, with people all over the world offering their time, resources, and expertise to help those in need. One of the most recent examples comes from Germany, which sent the Airbus A310 MRT MedEvac — the world’s most advanced flying hospital — to pick up six Italian intensive care patients from Bergamo and transport them back to Germany for treatment. “In times of greatest need, it goes without saying that we stand by our friends,” says Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Germany’s Defense Minister. “It is an important sign of solidarity. Europe has to stick together.” While it looks like any other A310 from the outside, the Medevac is anything but an ordinary plane. It’s outfitted with six intensive care stations and 38 regular hospital beds. Each station is equipped with state-of-the-art medical equipment, including computers, diagnostic systems, automatic injections, and long-term respiratory machines, which allows doctors to do just about everything they normally do in a regular hospital, with the exception of surgical procedures.
Coronavirus pandemic moves houses of worship online
For many people, religion offers hope in difficult times. However, as the new coronavirus continues to spread across the world, most religious services have been put on hold as well. And with the coming months bringing several major religious observations, including Easter, Passover, and Ramadan, religious groups find themselves in a difficult situation. “Fortunately, we live in a world where those kinds of barriers can be overcome through many different kinds of technology,” says John Farmer Jr., director of Rutgers’ Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience. “I think what you’re seeing around the country is different faiths resorting to television, to social media and to other forms of technology to overcome the barriers that are posed by social distancing.”
With most countries banning large gatherings to curb the spread of the virus, religious leaders are increasingly using platforms like Zoom and Facebook Live to livestream their services and provide worshippers with the support and guidance they so desperately need. “The community exists, regardless of whether it’s physically present in one room or whether it’s constituted over WebEx or Zoom or any number of platforms that are able to bring people together,” adds Farmer.
X.Labs unveils Feevr AI screening and temperature detection system
California-based company X.Labs has developed an AI-based system called Feevr, which will be used to screen crowds and detect individuals with an elevated temperature, one of the key indicators of COVID-19. Feevr is a fully mobile platform equipped with a thermal imaging camera and Vuzix Blade smart glasses that enable wearers to receive real-time alerts on the heads-up display.
When the system detects an individual whose temperature exceeds a predetermined threshold, the accompanying mobile app sends the wearer a discreet alert, enabling them to quickly and efficiently single out those who may need further medical examination. “Vuzix Blade provides a see-through display that allows our customers to receive real-time alerts from our Feevr solution while staying engaged with their environment,” says Barry Oberholzer, the founder and CEO of X.Labs.
VR game teaches children how to stay safe during the pandemic
A team of researchers at the University of Southern California led by Albert ‘Skip’ Rizzo, the Director for Medical Virtual Reality at the Institute for Creative Technologies, have developed a new VR game that aims to teach children how to stay safe during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The COVID Escape Room, as the game is called, is basically an obstacle course that rewards children for practicing safe behaviours, such as washing their hands, covering a sneeze, and social distancing. As children navigate the course, the game presents these concepts in a fun and entertaining way that leaves a lasting impression on them and helps them avoid contracting the virus in real life.
Disposable patch allows doctors to monitor patients remotely
Elevated temperature is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19 infection. However, since it can take up to 14 days for an infected person to develop symptoms, it’s absolutely essential for doctors to be able to monitor a patient’s condition without him or her physically coming to the hospital and putting other people at risk. Developed by Blue Spark Technologies, the world's leading producer of thin film batteries, TempTraq is a single-use, disposable patch that allows health authorities to remotely monitor and record axillary temperature around the clock, wirelessly forwarding the data to doctors in real time for up to 72 hours, thus minimising the need for direct contact with the patients. TempTraq is accompanied by a mobile app that stores recorded data on the company’s TempTraq Connect cloud service. Hospitals can choose to monitor the data on the TempTraq Clinician web portal or integrate the system directly into their existing electronic medical record (EMR) systems and nurse monitoring stations.
Udacity offers free tech courses to workers who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the entire world to a sudden halt, affecting numerous businesses and leaving thousands of people without a job. As the situation continues to escalate, the number of jobs lost will increase even further over the coming months. The UN estimates that more than 24 million people could become unemployed because of the coronavirus, making it obvious that this is no longer just a global health crisis, but an economic one as well. To help US workers who have been laid off as a result of the crisis, the online learning platform Udacity has decided to offer free tech training in fields like artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, and data analysis. These courses typically take between four and six months to complete, and the average fee is about $400 per month. “This [virus] will create disruption across the board and in many industries, and we wanted to do our part to help,” says Gabe Dalporto, CEO of Udacity. Laid off workers can visit udacity.com/pledge-to-americas-workers to apply for scholarships, which will be entirely funded by Udacity.
Qure.ai’s automated chest X-ray interpretation solution can detect signs of COVID-19
Leading healthcare AI startup Qure.ai revealed it has upgraded its existing chest X-ray automation and interpretation solution with new capabilities that allow it to detect signs of COVID-19. To date, the solution has been used to automatically generate chest X-ray interpretation reports and detect tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and lung malignancies, as well as medical emergencies like lung collapses and cardiac disorders. It can now also be used to analyse X-rays for signs of COVID-19 and determine the extent to which the infection affects the lungs. In addition to enabling healthcare workers identify patients who may need further testing, the solution can also help them monitor patient progress. “At Qure.ai, we are committed to doing everything we can to fight this pandemic. We are here to help the brave and selfless healthcare workers at the frontline who are working round the clock to end this pandemic,” says Prashant Warier, CEO and Co-founder of Qure.ai.
Bored in quarantine? Why not take a virtual museum tour?
One of the biggest issues for people stuck at home during quarantine is finding something to keep them occupied during that time. After all, there are only so many movies and tv shows you can watch in a day before you get bored with them as well. So, why not go for some culture and education instead? Google Arts & Culture partnered with more than 2500 museums and galleries from all over the world to offer people virtual tours of these cultural institutions from the privacy of their own home. The collection features some of the world’s most famous museums, which you can explore from the inside and experience the artwork from a new perspective. For instance, you can take a closer look at the Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies at the British Museum in London, visit Guggenheim Museum’s famous spiral staircase, discover ancient artifacts from the Mayan civilisation at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, or explore the works of some of the most famous French artists at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
China installs holographic elevator buttons to prevent coronavirus spread
One of the most common ways to catch the coronavirus is to touch a surface that still carries live virus particles and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. But do you ever stop to think about how many surfaces you actually touch over the course of a day? For example, if you live or work in a tall building, you may need to use the elevator to reach your destination. But what if the button was also touched by an infected person? To solve this issue and help people avoid touching potentially infected surfaces, a number of buildings in China have installed holographic elevator buttons. Developed by Easpeed Technology, a tech company based in the city of Hefei, the device works by projecting an image of the buttons in the air, which people can then ‘touch’ to operate the elevator. According to the company, the device can be incorporated into any existing elevator and has a response time of less than 30 milliseconds. However, at $2000, it doesn’t exactly come cheap. Despite this, the company has already received more than 100 orders for the system.
This crowdsourcing app could help us fill coronavirus data gaps
The lack of data on people who have developed symptoms presents a serious issue for countries in the early stages of an outbreak. Combined with the lack of available test kits and slow rate of testing, this results in only a small number of registered cases and makes it difficult for authorities to convince the public about the seriousness of the situation. To address this problem, David Hachuel, who is currently pursuing a Master of Public Health degree at Harvard University, has developed the Opendemic-app, which allows people to anonymously share their location and COVID-19 status, and informs them about other cases in their vicinity. Hachuel says that “the idea here is to have a database that can be open to public health authorities so they can use that data, in addition to the data they already have, to make decisions about the right interventions.” Furthermore, by informing people about other nearby cases, the app aims to convince them to stay inside and prevent further spread of the virus.
The coronavirus pandemic spurs demand for touch-free technology
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness spread through airborne droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. While viruses are generally poor at surviving outside of the host body, they can still live for days on surfaces like plastic or steel. That means that you still have a high risk of contracting the virus if you touch an infected surface and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. Thankfully, touch-free technology could significantly reduce this risk.
One of the companies working on such tech is Alana, which develops AI software that can understand and respond to human conversation. The software can manage conversations about various topics and learn about your interests, allowing it to suggest new and relevant subject matter. Already working with clients in industries like education, healthcare, and finance, the company expects the demand for its technology to surge in the wake of the coronavirus. “Alana is different from the voice-activated assistants on the market today, such as Alexa and Siri, as the software enables long, extended conversations over many turns. Alana achieves this by combining the latest developments in machine learning research with well-established solutions for customer facing interfaces,” explains Verena Rieser, the co-founder of Alana.
US company wants to use AI to predict the spread of the coronavirus
Jvion, an Atlanta-based healthcare analytics company, has launched a data analysis project that aims to detect patterns in the spread of viruses and identify people and communities at highest risk of COVID-19. To achieve this, the company used its AI platform to analyse data from more than two million patients, including their medical histories, as well as lifestyle and socioeconomic factors like access to stable housing and transportation. The platform then created a list of people who are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus, allowing health providers to contact them proactively and suggest measures that could minimise their risks, such as social distancing and avoiding large public gatherings. “COVID-19 is spreading at an unprecedented rate, but knowledge is power and our team is working diligently to provide insights the industry can use to confidently address issues around staffing, patient triage, and proactive community planning,” says Shantanu Nigam, CEO and founder of Jvion.
Bayern Munich footballers train online to reduce virus risk
The world of sports has also been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. The majority of competitions have been put on hold, postponed, or even cancelled, while athletes have been forced to isolate themselves, just like everyone else. As a result, many of them are looking for novel ways to maintain their fitness so they’ll be able to hit the ground running once everything returns to normal. Bayern Munich, the most successful football club in Germany, have introduced online training sessions to allow their players to work out from home and thus minimise their risk of contracting the virus. The sessions are streamed to the players’ tablets from the club’s training centre at Saebener Strasse and include basic endurance training, high intensity interval training, and strength training, with each session lasting between 75 and 90 minutes. The players are also equipped with fitness trackers that provide the club with revelant data about each player, such as their heart rate. The online training sessions also include an important social component. “When the training was over yesterday, the video transmission was far from over. The players talked to each other, exchanged ideas,” says Holger Broich, the club's head fitness coach.
Telehealth solutions offer safe medical consultation options
The stark reality of the current pandemic is presenting healthcare systems with various dilemmas, including that of social distancing. How can healthcare workers see patients with other – equally pressing or even more critical – health concerns while society goes on lockdown, one city at a time, to prevent the virus from getting to our most vulnerable? To alleviate the pressure on already strained healthcare services across the globe, it’s critical to ensure that people don’t visit health centres and hospitals at this uncertain time for public health unless absolutely necessary. One of various solutions is video conferencing technology that allows patients to consult with their doctors via telehealth. The UK company Refero has recently made its video calling service free for pharmacies and GP surgeries. Refero’s CEO says that this is not a business decision, but rather a moral and social one. He stresses the importance of people having access to healthcare in the safest way possible. In the US we see similar initiatives, with the US Congress lifting coverage restrictions for telehealth services for those who are at increased risk. It’s clear that telehealth will become an increasingly critical part of the global health infrastructure in the future.
Petcare in pandemic times
The ongoing pandemic hasn’t just been hard on people, but on their pets as well, especially those whose owners are in quarantine. As a result, people in the UK are increasingly signing up to dog-walking apps like Borrow My Doggy to allow their furry friends to get their daily exercise. In Spain, where the government has introduced strict movement restrictions, some people are even renting their dogs to allow their compatriots to get some fresh air without being fined. One man in Cyprus was even filmed using a drone to take his dog for a walk.
Not being able to walk your dog is one thing, but what if they get sick and you can’t leave your home to get them help? FirstVet, a Swedish startup that offers on-demand video consultations with qualified local veterinarians, has decided to make all of its video appointments free until the end of April. “Just because you're in isolation doesn't mean your pet stays healthy,” says David Prien, the firm's co-founder. According to Prien, the app’s usage has increased by 80 per cent over the past weeks, a development that has also been good for vets, as it gives them something to do while housebound.
Diagnosing COVID-19 by the sound of your voice
The US-based enterprise voice assistant developer Voca.ai announced plans to develop a test that will be able to determine whether people are infected with COVID-19 using nothing more than the sound of their voice. To make this possible, the company joined forces with Carnegie Mellon University to launch Corona Voice Detect, a website that invites people to record themselves speaking a few sentences. After putting in some details about their age and location, they are asked to say whether they’ve been diagnosed with the coronavirus and how they feel. All of the data is then anonymised and included into an open-source dataset that will be used to create the test. “In viruses like the coronavirus that harm the respiratory system, there’s a high probability we might find a pattern in the way a person speaks using voice biomarkers research,” explains Voca.ai co-founder Alan Bekker, adding that the same principle could potentially be used to detect other diseases as well. While it remains to be seen whether what they’re proposing is even possible, more than 30,000 people from all over the world have already uploaded recordings of their voice to the website.
New coronavirus test returns results in just 30 minutes
Our current methods of testing for the coronavirus usually take between 1.5 and two hours to return results. In addition to time constraints, the tests are also incredibly complex and require scientists to isolate COVID-19 RNA, turn that RNA into DNA, and then use a specialised polymerase chain reaction machine to test the DNA. These limitations are preventing scientists from performing testing on a large scale, focusing instead on more severe and obvious cases, which carries the risk of missing asymptomatic carriers. But now, a team of scientists at the University of Oxford have developed a new coronavirus test that can provide results in just half an hour. The test is not only faster than our existing testing methods but also requires only simple technical instrumentation and produces results that are easy to interpret. Furthermore, according to researchers, it can even detect patients in earlier stages of infection. Initial results indicate that the tests are 100 per cent accurate, although they were performed on a small number of samples. While this technology is still in its early stages and may take a while to become widely implemented, it could have a major impact on our fight against COVID-19.
The new normal – life is moving increasingly online
With many cities on lockdown and countless people unable to leave their homes, people are looking for other ways to entertain themselves until the crisis passes. In China, virtual fitness classes are becoming increasingly popular, as numerous gyms, including F45, Gravity Plus, and Supermonkey, start offering online classes to help their clients stay fit. The classes mostly take place on the popular messaging app WeChat, allowing people to tune in and communicate with their trainers and each other.
For book lovers, the author Erika Hall launched the ‘Quarantine Book Club’, which allows people from all over the world to talk about books with authors themselves using the video conferencing platform Zoom. Some people are even hosting virtual dinner parties, happy hours, poker games, and birthday gatherings on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, or FaceTime. This enables them to stay in touch with their family and friends and provides them with some semblance of normalcy while following social distancing guidelines. This trend even gave birth to a new word in the Japanese language, on-nomi or online drinking, which describes a new craze enthralling Japanese women, in which they use Zoom to gather in groups of ten or more, drink beer, and talk about their lives.
How to protect older people and help them feel less lonely during the outbreak
Older people, especially those with underlying medical conditions, are far more likely to become seriously ill or die if they become infected with COVID-19. As a result, many countries are urging them to stay at home as much as possible to reduce their risk of contracting the virus. There is only one problem with this solution: it could exclude older people even further from the community and make them feel lonelier than they already are. Thankfully, there are a number of tech products that allow you to stay in touch with your older relatives and make them feel less lonely. Smart displays such as Amazon Echo Show, Facebook Portal, and Google Nest Hub are all easy to use and come equipped with screens that allow anyone to start video calls with their loved ones in a few simple steps. Smartphone apps like Google Duo, FaceTime, and Skype also offer the ability to make video calls. Older people can also use smartphones to order food through apps like Deliveroo and Uber Eats, which offer contactless delivery options as a way to minimise the risk of catching the virus.
Italian doctors use 3D-printed valves to save patients’ lives
In the most severe cases, people infected with COVID-19 require intensive care and oxygenation. They are hooked up to reanimation devices that try to keep them alive long enough for their body to fight off the infection. However, one hospital in Brescia, a city in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy, encountered a major problem when they ran out of replacement valves, one of the parts required for the device to function properly, as the supplier was unable to keep up with the demand.
Thankfully, a local 3D printing company called Isinnova stepped in to lend a helping hand. They brought a 3D printer directly to the hospital, redesigned the valve, and printed it out. By the next day, 10 patients were breathing through devices equipped with the 3D-printed valves. Another local company, Lonati SpA, soon offered its help as well and printed even more 3D valves to provide the hospital with enough pieces to handle the increased number of patients.
People in China turn to ‘cloud clubbing’ to escape the boredom of quarantine
The coronavirus outbreak is wreaking havoc on our way of life. Almost everything has come to a standstill and many people are stuck at home in quarantine. All music events are cancelled, while bars and nightclubs are closed for the foreseeable future, which is why some clubs in China are turning to ‘cloud clubbing’ to keep people entertained during this difficult period. They are live streaming DJ sets on video platforms like Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, allowing people to tune in, comment in real time, and dance to the music in the privacy of their own home. Millions of people tune in to watch the shows, with some clubs earning hundreds of thousands of dollars using a common feature of live streaming platforms that allows people to spend real money on virtual gifts for performers.
Autonomous delivery vehicles help curb the spread of the coronavirus
As more and more countries around the world introduce strict quarantine measures in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus, the demand for home delivery services is skyrocketing. However, one major issue with home delivery is the risk of contracting the virus from the delivery driver. To solve this problem, companies in China are increasingly turning to autonomous delivery vehicles. Neolix, a Beijing-based self-driving delivery vehicle startup, revealed that Chinese companies, including online giants Alibaba and JD.com, have booked orders for 200 of its tiny robotic vehicles in just two months. Since the start of the outbreak, Neolix has deployed 50 vehicles in 10 major cities in China, which are used to deliver food and medical supplies and disinfect streets. The company’s factory has the capacity to produce 10,000 units per year, which may soon become a common sight in streets around the world if current movement restrictions persist.
Companies turn to chatbots to fight the COVID-19 outbreak
As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise around the world, existing healthcare systems are put under increasing strain. To help medical professionals better respond to the outbreak and alleviate some of the pressure, more and more companies are starting to implement chatbot technology. Healthgrades, a US-based company that connects consumers, physicians, and health systems, launched the Coronavirus Chatbot to keep the public informed about the coronavirus and COVID-19 by providing important background information and performing symptom analysis to help users determine their level of risk. All you have to do is text CORONA to 83973 or enter your zip code, and you will receive real-time updates about the coronavirus. You can get answers to commonly asked questions, tips for staying healthy, text alerts for travel restrictions, and updated information from the CDC. You will also get access to the Healthgrades Find-a-Doctor search function, which enables you to get in touch with a healthcare provider who will examine your symptoms and determine whether you need to be tested for the coronavirus.
In the UK, Babylon Health is trying to expand the capabilities of its AI-chatbot to enable it to detect coronavirus symptoms. The chatbot is part of the company’s GP at Hand app and enables you to input your symptoms. It then uses AI to determine the likely causes. Updating the AI algorithms to recognise coronavirus symptoms is however proving rather difficult because there’s not a lot of good quality epidemiological evidence available. The company therefore urges users who suspect they may have been infected with the coronavirus not to use the chatbot to evaluate their symptoms at this time. Instead, they can use the 24/7 video service within the app to access clinicians remotely. In Italy, the worst affected country after China, a digital health startup called Paginemediche has developed a chatbot that can diagnose the coronavirus. Designed under the medical supervision of Dr Emanuele Urbani, a general practitioner in Milan, and based on the guidelines set out by the Italian Ministry of Health, the chatbot aims to help doctors highlight potential coronavirus cases and interact with patients remotely. It has already been adopted by the Lombardy region on its institutional portal and by the Provincial Health Services Agency in Trento to halt the spread of the virus.
US company uses machine learning algorithms to track the spread of the virus
The US-based autonomous monitoring company Anodot has created an online COVID-19 tracker that monitors locally reported cases and sends notifications when it detects an a-typical increase in the number of confirmed cases. “During the past couple of days a number of our employees voiced concerns over the growth of the virus in their home cities around the world. We began using our own machine learning algorithms to track it, and quickly realised that lending the use of our technology to the global public is the minimum we can do to help during this very difficult time,” says David Drai, the CEO and Co-Founder at Anodot.
The company uses its proprietary algorithms to analyse publicly available data supplied by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University and provide valuable insights. “It's crucial to monitor the rate of newly reported cases and not only the absolute number to better evaluate the situation,” explains Ira Cohen, Anodot’s Chief Data Scientist and Co-Founder. One of the most significant insights derived from the data so far outlines the differences in response to the outbreak between Italy and South Korea. Even though the countries share a similar number of confirmed cases, South Korea has managed to reduce the infection rate and has a much lower mortality rate, which may be attributed to more widespread testing.
App places travellers in ‘digital quarantine’
Texas-based technology company MTX Group Inc. has launched an app for disease monitoring and control, which could help airports, health officials, and various government agencies prevent the spread of COVID-19. So far, the app is only being used in New York, whose Department of Health got in touch with the company after US President Donald Trump issued a temporary executive order prohibiting arrivals from China to access 11 American airports.
The app allows the state of New York to monitor travellers, as well as doctors and anyone else who has come into contact with a person with coronavirus symptoms. Those who are travelling back from regions affected by the virus are asked to go through a ‘digital quarantine’ check-in process, which follows the development of coronavirus symptoms. For 14 days, the app sends daily text messages inquiring whether the user has any symptoms and uploads the data to health officials who can identify potentially infected individuals. In addition, the app monitors anyone who has been in contact with infected persons and medical staff working with coronavirus patients. The co-founder of MTX Group Inc., Nipa Nobel, explains that the company is also looking into introducing its app to other states, such as California, Indiana, and Oklahoma, as well as the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas.
3D-printed hospital rooms
The rapidly rising number of coronavirus patients has created a demand for facilities that can house a large number of people who need to be quarantined. A hospital in Xianning, a city close to Wuhan in the Hubei province, turned to 3D printing for a fast and efficient solution. Fifteen 3D-printed hospital rooms were built in the course of one day by Shanghai-based construction company Winsun Building Technique. Each room has a surface area of 10 square metres, with a height of 2.8 metres, and can accommodate up to two persons at a time. The rooms are equipped with air conditioning, a shower, and a toilet. Ma Yufeng, the general manager of Winsun Building Technique, also emphasises that the rooms are environmentally friendly and made out of recyclable materials such as sand and construction rubble. Usually, one such 3D-printed room would cost $4,000, but considering the circumstances, the company decided to donate them and help take some of the burden off of the overcrowded hospitals.
Chinese doctors 3D-print lung model of a coronavirus patient
A team of healthcare professionals at Chenzhou No. 1 People's Hospital in China, led by doctor He Yucheng, has successfully 3D-printed a model of the lungs of a patient infected with the coronavirus. The 3D model is superior to two-dimensional computed tomography (CT) images, as it provides a full-colour, life-size reconstruction of a patient’s arteries, bronchi, and veins, enabling doctors to view the lungs from all angles. They can also take the model to a group consultation to “better understand the development of patients' lung diseases and provide them with more customised follow-up treatment plans,” says Yucheng.
Robot-staffed hospital ward opens in China
With 80,924 COVID-19 cases, medical teams in China have certainly had their hands full. To protect their doctors and nurses, a hospital ward in Wuhan is introducing robots. Located at the Wuchang field hospital, the ward's 5G-enabled robots will be able to measure a patient's temperature, deliver food, and keep the facilities clean. For example, they can collect medical waste and gather old bedsheets, and their navigation technology allows them to move and automatically avoid obstacles. Furthermore, the robots enable doctors to monitor patients remotely, which will lower their risk of becoming infected. The robot-staffed ward is the result of a collaboration between the Hubei province officials and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, while the AI company CloudMinds donated the 12 robots that were set up in less than a week. But the Hubei province isn't the only one with robotic medical staff – in one hospital in Guangdong, robots are also used to make food and medicine deliveries, as well as dispose of medical waste and bedsheets.
US company builds a machine to test the air for the coronavirus
Innovaprep, a US-based microbiology testing company, has developed technology that tests the air for traces of the coronavirus. This process involves several steps. First, a machine called ‘the Bobcat’ collects air and traps microbes and germs in a special filter. The sample is then turned into a liquid with the help of a special foam. A second device then concentrates the organisms in the liquid into a tiny drop, which is analysed by another machine to reveal what those microbes are. The entire procedure takes less than two hours. The company’s CEO, Dave Alburty, says that the process “amplifies the DNA, until there’s enough of the DNA of that organism to identify it”.
The US military has been using similar technology for years to detect dangerous airborne particles, but Alburty believes it could also be deployed to test hospitals, cruise ships, office buildings, and other environments that might have COVID-19 present in them, potentially saving a number of lives. He notes that “we’ve been in this battle with pathogens for [a] millennium whether we’ve known it or not. But now we’ve got the secret weapon. We’ve got instruments like these that can rapidly detect a threat.”
Supercomputer detects potential coronavirus treatments
While some scientists are looking into developing a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, others are focusing their efforts on identifying existing treatments that could be effective against the novel coronavirus. Researchers at the US Energy Department's Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed they used an IBM supercomputer to scan over 8,000 compounds, detecting 77 small-molecule drugs that could be potential treatments for the coronavirus. The supercomputer, called Summit, can perform 200 quadrillion calculations per second, making it around one million times more powerful than the average laptop. Considering its power, Summit was able to rapidly achieve the results the researchers needed. “It took us a day or two whereas it would have taken months on a normal computer,” emphasises principal researcher Jeremy Smith. He also points out that they haven't found a treatment or cure for SARS-CoV-2 yet, as the 77 compounds must first be tested before being approved as a treatment.
AI temperature-detecting systems help diagnose COVID-19
The Latin American startup View-Factor is developing a device that uses AI to measure a person's body temperature from a distance. Called Astrom Thermosense, the device costs around $30,000 and relies on two cameras to detect an elevated temperature, a key symptom of COVID-19. One of the cameras can detect faces, while the other is thermographic and can analyse body temperature, the entire process taking less than one second. But View-Factor will not be the first to bring such temperature-detecting technology to Latin America. In February, the Chinese government donated software and hardware equipped with thermosensors to the Bolivian government, which will install it at airports to ensure all passersby undergo screening for the coronavirus before entering the country.
Virtual screening tool could speed up coronavirus drug development
According to Drug Target Review, scientists have recently started using advanced drug discovery software developed at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to help develop treatments for the virus. The virtual screening tool relies on 3D analysis of protein docking to screen drugs and identify those that may be efficient in treating infectious diseases. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the software was able to screen 25,000 drug compounds per day. The team has since increased its capacity to 250,000, allowing it to screen two million drug compounds in just a few days. Dr Shawn Blumberg, a scientist at SwRI, observes that “This advanced processing capability is demonstrating that virtual screening can rapidly increase the pace of drug discovery, especially in pandemic situations.”
AI models try to ‘crack’ the virus' structure
In a bid to help scientists develop a vaccine, the Google-owned UK-based machine learning startup DeepMind relied on AI to detail the protein structure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. The startup used data from The Universal Protein Resource (UniProt), a consortium that provides comprehensive resources of protein sequences and functional information, and its AlphaFold system to predict six of the virus' protein structures. By offering a closer look at the virus, the system allows scientists to better understand how it works and how to stop it. To ensure everyone has access to its findings, DeepMind shared the results on its website, as well as with researchers in the UK. Under normal circumstances, the startup would wait for the work to be peer-reviewed before publishing it, but considering the severity of the outbreak, it decided to immediately release the findings under an open licence, so that everyone can use them.
5G robots help medical staff in Thailand
To monitor and treat coronavirus patients in Thailand, the mobile phone operator Advanced Info Service (AIS) partnered with Chulalongkorn University to create smart robots equipped with 5G technology. The medicine and engineering faculties of the University were responsible for assembling the robots, which will be used to monitor COVID-19 symptoms and treat patients to minimise the risk of medical staff becoming infected themselves. Furthermore, doctors will be able to communicate with their patients through video conferencing tools, as well as remote-control the robot. Future versions of the robot may also contain equipment such as blood pressure monitors, pulse watches, electrocardiogram devices, and thermometers, which will send patient data to medical staff. As of now, three medical institutions in Thailand are using the smart robots. Wasit Wattanasap, the head of nationwide operations and support at AIS, explains that research funds will be used to develop 40 to 50 smart robots using 3D printing technology.
Germ-fighting robots are used to counter the coronavirus outbreak
Xenex Disinfection Services, a US-based robotics firm, is experiencing growing demand for its germ-fighting robots. These machines rely on pulsed xenon short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) light to destroy viruses such as MRSA, Ebola, the flu, and the coronavirus on different surfaces. The robots can disinfect various environments, including airplanes, healthcare facilities, offices, cruise ships, schools, movie theatres, and concert halls. The company is looking to deploy the product in Tokyo for the summer Olympics, and currently, over 500 hospitals use Xenex’s devices. Morris Miller, the company’s CEO, says that killing microorganisms that cause deadly diseases can “reduce hospital-acquired infections and ultimately reduce suffering and save lives”.
South Korea uses an app to monitor people in home quarantine
South Korea is battling to contain the spread of the coronavirus that has already taken over 40 lives and infected around 6,300 people in this country. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety has now developed a smartphone app that tracks the movements and symptoms of people sent into mandatory home quarantine. These individuals can use the new tool to communicate with assigned case workers and provide updates on their symptoms. The app also uses GPS to detect whether patients are leaving their homes and breaking quarantine, alerting both the subject and the case officer.
The app is meant to relieve pressure on public institutions that currently deal with over 30,000 self-quarantined people nationwide. Before the app was released, a case officer had to contact each of these individuals twice a day by phone to check whether they had developed any symptoms and dispatch a mobile testing team to collect samples if that happens. However, the app isn’t mandatory, and those who may have trouble installing it can still communicate with healthcare institutions through telephone calls. The South Korean government also said that it’s ready to share its app technology with other nations interested in acquiring it.
Gene-editing tech could be used to detect the coronavirus
CRISPR technology, a powerful tool that enables researchers to alter DNA sequences and modify gene functions, could be applied directly to human health for the first time in the form of quick diagnostic testing for the novel coronavirus. The American CRISPR-based diagnostics company Sherlock is developing a coronavirus test that would return results in less than 30 minutes, as opposed to the three hours it usually takes with existing COVID-19 tests. Another US-based diagnostics company, Mammoth, which also specialises in CRISPR, has developed a platform called DETECTR, which can be used to create tests that can differentiate COVID-19 from other coronaviruses, and identify several coronavirus strains. Like Sherlock, Mammoth's test also shows results within 30 minutes. The co-founder and CEO of Mammoth, Trevor Martin, believes that the earliest versions of the test will be most efficient in a centralised lab setting, but with the right equipment, the test could even be used in the field.
Nanotechnology tackles COVID-19
Tulane University in Louisiana has put its researchers to work on developing a rapid COVID-19 test, which will use highly sensitive, nanotechnology-based saliva or blood tests to identify biomarkers of the disease. The project leader Tony Hu says that such technology is especially important in the light of reports that the novel coronavirus can spread even before people develop symptoms. Thomas Webster at Northeastern University in Massachusetts is proposing to eradicate the virus with nanoparticles that would match the virus' structure. His team specialises in theranostics-research, which focuses on developing nanoparticles that can fight microbes that cause tuberculosis and influenza. For the treatment of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the nanoparticles would latch onto the individual virus and disrupt its structure under infrared light treatment, with the aim of stopping the virus from reproducing and surviving in the patient’s body. But before developing a cure, the researchers must first identify what to put in the nanoparticle to attract it to the virus, says Webster.
COVID-19 strengthens the case for virtual hospitals
Du, one of the biggest telecom operators in the United Arab Emirates, is in talks with the country's Ministry of Health to build the first virtual hospital in the Middle East. In such facilities, doctors and nurses remotely care for patients who are at home through smart monitors and AI-powered devices. Medical staff can communicate with, diagnose, and treat patients, taking some of the burden off of traditional hospital resources. During times of a viral outbreak, such as with COVID-19, the argument for virtual hospitals becomes even stronger. Since those who suspect they might have been infected are advised to stay at home and consult with their doctor over the phone first, virtual hospitals could enable patients to go through the entire diagnosis and treatment process without ever having to come into physical contact with the medical staff. Marwan Bin Dalmook, the senior vice president for ICT commercial and business development-enterprise solutions at Du, explains that the cost and infrastructure are currently being worked out with the ministry, and that the company is hoping to get the virtual hospital in place soon.
AI-powered mobile app provides at-home risk assessments for the coronavirus
Scientists at the Medical College of Georgia, one of the nine colleges of the US-based Augusta University, are developing an AI-powered mobile app that enables you to determine your risk of contracting the coronavirus. The app asks a series of questions about your location, gender, age, race, recent travel history, and contacts with known infected persons. The app also enquires whether you’re experiencing symptoms like fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sputum production, headache, and diarrhoea.
The algorithm then analyses the provided information and creates a risk assessment. High-risk patients are instructed to go to the nearest testing facility. If that’s not possible, the facility is notified of the need for a mobile or remote health check. The app provides public health officials with real-time information on the spread of the virus, enabling authorities to identify regions, cities, and villages where the virus is circulating, and prompting healthcare facilities to prepare the necessary resources. At-home assessments will also calm citizens and prevent those who are at low risk from visiting already overwhelmed hospitals.
Telemedicine is increasingly being used to treat COVID-19 patients
Eleven Israelis who were exposed to the coronavirus on a cruise ship in Japan were quarantined at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv and treated using telemedicine. These tools allow medical staff to remotely communicate with and monitor the patients, without exposing themselves to the virus. For instance, patients use hand-held smart devices developed by the Israeli startup TytoCare to allow doctors to remotely check their heart and lungs. Doctors can also use the devices to examine their throats and ears to check for additional symptoms. Another telemedicine tool, a sensor system developed by the Israeli company Early Sense, was placed underneath the patients' mattresses to track their breathing patterns for any changes or signs of respiratory infection. Eyal Zimlichman, a doctor at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center, emphasises that they're putting a lot of hope into the telemedicine systems, as they not only collect data, but also analyse it with machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Blockchain ensures transparent data sharing during COVID-19 outbreak
The American company Acoer is helping epidemiologists gain access to high-quality, verified data, with which they can make recommendations regarding virus containment. Its coronavirus tracker dashboard runs on the Hedera Hashgraph blockchain and provides information on the number of infections, deaths, and recoveries. Tracking supplies such as masks, caps, gloves, and other protective gear is also crucial for medical staff who are in direct contact with patients. To make tracking more transparent, Chinese mobile payment service Alipay has launched a platform that runs on its Ant Blockchain technology to keep track of important epidemic prevention gear.
Smart police helmets detect coronavirus symptoms
Although AI companies Megvii and Baidu are already implementing fever detection systems in subways, Chinese authorities are continuing to find additional quick coronavirus screening methods. To detect people who are potentially infected with COVID-19, Chinese police are now being equipped with smart helmets developed by Kuang-Chi Technology. The N901 helmets, already in use in Shanghai and other cities, are kitted out with infrared cameras that can quickly measure body temperature in crowds at a distance of up to five metres. Furthermore, they also feature augmented reality glasses, QR code scanning abilities, and facial recognition, as well as Wi-Fi, 5G, and Bluetooth connectivity. Despite all this equipment, the helmets are quite lightweight as the company used custom metamaterials developed in collaboration with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.
The nCoV-2019 Tracker enables immersive insights into the COVID-19 outbreak
Michael DiBengino, an MIT graduate and XR strategist, is the creator of the nCoV-2019 Tracker, a WebXR app that provides basic information about the outbreak and how it has spread across the world. The tracker was created with FlowImmersive, a platform for data visualisation that helps people understand data insights using mixed reality devices. Using data gathered from the Lancet, Associated Press, and the John Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the app shows an interactive timeline of the coronavirus outbreak, including a 3D rendering of planet Earth. There's no need to download a separate app, as the virtual experience can be accessed through a web browser. Although the visualisation is effective when viewed on a smartphone or desktop, it's most immersive when viewed through a VR headset and gives excellent insight into just how quickly COVID-19 has spread.
Supercomputers detect potential treatments
In Japan, scientists have turned to supercomputers to identify existing drugs that could be used to treat COVID-19. Considering that new treatments can take over 10 years to develop, scientists are trying to cut the research time by examining already approved ones. Haruki Nakamura is leading an expert team at the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development that’s researching how already approved drugs can be applied to the treatment of the new coronavirus. Having begun their research in late January, the team is expecting the first results as early as late March. "Drugs that already exist have a higher potential for quick usage," Nakamura concludes. Masakazu Sekijima, an associate professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, is also conducting research with supercomputers on how the new coronavirus reacts to HIV medicine and other drugs. "I'd like to use artificial intelligence to clarify the reasons they work, and find a highly effective treatment with few side effects," Sekijima explains.
Stanford University launches a distributed computing project to defeat the coronavirus
Even those who aren't scientists or medical staff can do their part to defeat the coronavirus by lending their computer’s unused resources. A distributed computing project called Folding@home, created by Stanford University, is looking into developing treatments for COVID-19. To achieve this, the project will use the processing capacity of networked computers and simulate the process of protein folding, which can identify ways to treat not just COVID-19, but also cancer and Alzheimer's. Studying how a protein folds demands significant computational power, which Folding@home would generate by using the CPUs of volunteer computers when they're in idle mode. To participate in the project, volunteers can download free software from the Folding@home website to get started.
Advice-giving robot takes to Times Square
New York City's Times Square is home to a new, 1.5-metre-tall robot that can provide information about COVID-19. Promobot, as it's called, was developed by a Philadelphia-based startup that designs autonomous service robots for businesses. The Promobot allows passersby to fill out a short questionnaire about their health on its touchscreen and informs them if they're experiencing any coronavirus symptoms. Despite the health hazards posed by interacting with a public touchscreen, Oleg Kivorkutsev, the company’s chief business development officer, explains that if people learn about COVID-19's symptoms and what they can do to prevent it, they will be less afraid. “This thing is very clever. It’s really, really clever,” says a Promobot user.
VR helps quarantined patients minimise the sense of isolation
Coronavirus patients undergo extensive quarantines at the hospital, which naturally leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness. To help them overcome these difficult emotions, the Sheba Medical Center in Israel has partnered with the VR/AR telehealth company XRHealth to provide quarantined patients with access to VR headsets that will allow them to take virtual tours of various destinations. XRHealth's platform also helps patients deal with anxiety and stress, which are obviously big issues for patients affected by the virus. Eran Orr, the company's CEO, explains that the ability to put on a headset, lie back, relax, and visit locations in the virtual world will help patients feel connected with the outside world and minimise feelings of isolation. Dr Galia Barkai, the head of telemedicine at Sheba, emphasises that staying in touch with the outside world will definitely improve the mental state of patients quarantined for extended periods of time.
AI diagnoses the coronavirus in only 20 seconds
Chinese tech giant Alibaba has developed an AI system capable of diagnosing COVID-19 in a matter of seconds. Trained with data and images from 5,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the system can analyse the CT scan of a patient's chest with 96 per cent accuracy. Furthermore, the AI can complete the analysis in only 20 seconds, while a human doctor usually takes between 5 to 20 minutes to make a diagnosis, considering there are around 300 images that need to be evaluated. Alibaba's AI will be introduced to at least 100 healthcare institutions in Hubei, Guangdong, and Anhui – Chinese provinces with a high number of infections – which should take some of the burden off of overworked doctors, giving them more time to focus on treating already infected patients.
Chinese coronavirus detection app faces criticism
The Alipay Health Code app, which was developed by the Chinese government to help people determine whether they’ve come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19, has come under fire for privacy violations. A code analysis conducted by The New York Times discovered that the app also shares information with the police. When a user gives the software access to personal data, a part of the program labelled "reportInfoAndLocationToPolice" uploads that person's location, name of the city, and an identifying code number to a server. However, the users were never notified of the app's ties to the police, even though China's news agency has confirmed that law enforcement played a key role in the app's development. Such automated social control carries the risk of being continued even after the epidemic is gone, paving the way for even more intensive surveillance of Chinese citizens. In addition, it’s not entirely clear how the app determines who has been in contact with an infected person. The app generates a red, yellow, or green QR health code that dictates whether the user can gain access to public transport or work. However, there still seem to be some issues left to be resolved, as one Hubei resident has been stuck at home for weeks because her health code is red, even though she has no symptoms.
British startup uses AI to identify potential treatments
AI is a powerful tool in developing treatments for various diseases and illnesses, and the UK-based startup BenevolentAI is working on finding potentially useful medicine to treat COVID-19. Only a few weeks after the outbreak, BenevolentAI's predictive tools identified baricitinib, a drug used for rheumatoid arthritis, as a possibly effective treatment that could reduce the virus' ability to infect the lungs. The chief executive of BenevolentAI, Joanna Shields, explains that this is the first time the startup has used its systems to find a treatment for an infectious disease. Shields further adds that given the immediate need for therapy, the company decided to target already approved drugs that had passed rigorous safety tests and could be administered to patients right away. Ivan Griffin, the co-founder of Benevolent AI, emphasises that the research was completed in a time frame that would've been impossible to accomplish without AI. BenevolentAI has also signed a Wellcome Trust pledge together with more than 100 businesses, pledging to share data and findings related to the coronavirus.
Tech giants fight online misinformation
During times of viral outbreaks, the public is eager to get their hands on up-to-date information. Unfortunately, this also feeds the proliferation of misinformation and scams on social media. A biology professor at the University of Washington, Carl Bergstorm, says that the public's concern about the virus is being used as a way to transmit misinformation and disinformation. To combat this issue, internet companies have held a meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO) to discuss fact-checking suspicious claims and promoting reliable information about the coronavirus. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus explains that "To that end, we have worked with Google to make sure people searching for information about the coronavirus see WHO information at the top of their search results." To ensure that people who search for health information are directed to the relevant sources, Google ranks trustworthy sources higher and labels news stories that have been fact-checked. YouTube has also adjusted its policies to prioritise trustworthy and fact-checked content. At the moment, for instance, the platform doesn’t allow videos that promote hazardous remedies, such as those that claim harmful substances can have positive health effects.
Facebook is also combating false information by zeroing in on claims that could increase the chances of someone getting sick or not getting the appropriate treatment. “This includes claims related to false cures or prevention methods – like drinking bleach to cure the coronavirus – or claims that create confusion about health resources that are available,” emphasises Kang-Xing Jin, the head of health at Facebook. Furthermore, Facebook will restrict and block hashtags that spread false information on Instagram. The company is also carrying out sweeps to identify and remove as much of the misinformation as possible. And when Facebook users look up the virus on their platform, the site will display educational pop-up boxes with credible information. Additionally, the social media network is giving free advertising credits to organisations running coronavirus education campaigns.
Drones slow down the spread of the virus
MicroMultiCopter, a Shenzhen-based drone startup, has sent out 100 devices across China to help authorities scan large crowds and detect whether anyone needs medical attention. The startup has also tasked 200 of its employees with monitoring what the drones are seeing. "The company has been working overtime. This is the best test of our drone system. It is also the best showcase to the world," a spokesperson said in a statement. Another Chinese drone manufacturer, DJI, has deployed its drones to spray disinfectant, make public announcements, and disperse public gatherings. Some of the drones are even equipped with thermal cameras to help nurses and doctors identify new cases by remotely measuring body temperature.
Russia uses facial recognition to contain COVID-19
To prevent further spreading of the virus, and to enforce a quarantine on more than 2,000 people, the city of Moscow is also using facial recognition technology. People entering Moscow from China were first screened at the airport, and then ordered to undergo a two-week quarantine, regardless of whether they were showing symptoms or not. “In practice, this means that any person arriving from China must not leave their home or hotel for two weeks,” explains Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin. And to make sure the quarantined persons are following orders, Moscow is tracking them with CCTV cameras and facial recognition software. But the city is also resorting to conducting raids in hotels, dormitories, and apartments where Chinese nationals are staying as a measure of prevention. While Sobyanin describes the raids as "unpleasant", he believes them to be necessary.
App helps people check whether they’ve been near an infected person
The Chinese government has developed an app that tells you whether you’ve been close to a person who is (suspected of being) infected with the coronavirus. To make an inquiry, you need to scan a QR code using an app like the social media platform WeChat, which then registers the new app with your phone number. Once you enter your name and ID number into the app, you are informed whether you’ve been in close contact with an infected person. This covers people who work closely together, live in the same home or share a classroom, medical staff, passengers and crew who have travelled with an infected person. While China has developed quite the reputation for its over-the-top citizen surveillance, Hong Kong-based technology lawyer Carolyn Bigg believes the app will not be met with much resistance. “In China, and across Asia, data is not seen as something to be locked down, it's something that can be used. Provided it's done in a transparent way, with consent where needed,” Bigg highlights. She further adds that the Chinese people will see the app as a useful service which is using data for a good purpose.
Robots help medical staff
The Chinese medical robot manufacturer TMiRob has deployed over 30 disinfection robots to Wuhan's major hospitals. Equipped with a hydrogen peroxide sprayer and nine ultraviolet lamps, the robot can disinfect different areas like isolation wards, operating rooms, fever clinics, and ICUs. Another Chinese robot manufacturer, Siasun, donated 21 robots to hospitals in Shenyang. Siasun's robots can be used for disinfection, as well as to deliver medicine to patients. They can also be used to deliver food, minimising close contact between people. But Siasun is also collaborating with the Shenyang Institute of Automation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to develop robots that can conduct throat testing for the coronavirus and replace nurses. “Intelligent robotic products can effectively replace doctors and nurses in some work, thus reducing their chance of being infected,” explains Teng Weiyu, the vice president of the First Hospital of the China Medical University.
Chinese AI detects infections with facial recognition tech
The city of Beijing is using AI and facial recognition tech to screen subway passengers for coronavirus symptoms. Two Chinese AI companies, Megvii and Baidu, have implemented body temperature scanners that can send alerts if they detect anyone with a fever. Megvii monitors up to 16 checkpoints in one station and can screen as many as 15 people per second. Only one employee is needed to control the AI system, which can detect high body temperature even if a person has covered their face with a mask or a hat. It combines body detection, face detection, and dual-sensing with infrared cameras and visible light to carry out its screenings. Baidu uses infrared scanners and a facial-recognition system to detect infected passengers and screens over 200 people per minute. If it detects someone with a temperature of at least 37.2 degrees Celsius, the system alerts a staff member to conduct additional screening.
The role of AI in COVID-19 detection
Kamran Khan is a Canadian doctor specialised in infectious disease and the founder and CEO of BlueDot, a platform that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to protect people all over the world from infectious diseases. The AI-powered system analyses vast quantities of data, including news reports and airline ticket sales, to track the trajectory of viral illnesses. The advanced system can analyse about 100,000 articles in 65 languages per day, and factors in the temperature, climate, and the condition of the livestock in a particular country, to determine how a virus will spread globally and to identify the regions most threatened by an outbreak. For example, 80 per cent of people travelling from Wuhan to Canada are going to Vancouver and Toronto, but since there are no non-stop flights from Wuhan, the volume of travel is low. Khan, however, does concede that BlueDot predictions come with a degree of uncertainty. Nevertheless, the insight gained from the AI system is shared with the public and private sector so that they can coordinate processes more efficiently.