Latest technologies combating Covid-19

written by Miriam Njeri

Fortunately, technology has progressed since the last global pandemic. Data scientists have been working hard to leverage innovations in computing to solve large-scale global challenges – their work will now be essential for response planning and mitigation.

Below are some of the digital technologies been used to help fight the Covid 19 pandemic.

Robotics

From preparing meals at hospitals, doubling up as waiters in restaurants, spraying disinfectants to vending rice and dispensing hand sanitizers, robots were on the frontline to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. In many hospitals, robots were also performing diagnosis and conducting thermal imaging. For example, Shenzhen-based company Multicopter is using robots to transport medical samples.

A hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, was being staffed entirely by robots. Wuchang Hospital, China Mobile and Cloud Minds, a manufacturer of Cloud-based robotics systems, came together for this project aimed at making the hospital facility completely smart and digital. Most of the devices in the hospital are IoT enabled and services are carried out by robots. The initial screening of the patients is done by 5G-enabled thermometers that send instant updates. Also, there are rings and bracelets that are connected to the CloudMinds AI platform so that it can monitor all changes in the body.

Population health services. Population is a determinant in provision of healthcare. Governments and healthcare practitioners are more and more engaged in policy decisions based on population health. Big data on population trends can be utilized to assist governments and various bodies to make decisions and hence inform policy and strategy. According to the recently released 2018 World Population Data Sheet from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), by mid-century, the share of the population aged 65 or older will reach seven per cent up from three per cent currently. This, while children’s (ages 0 to 14) share will have fallen, from 41 per cent today, to 29 per cent in 2050. This means the government needs to start focusing more on gathering data on the ageing population.

Data collection can be enhanced by various methods such as use of wearables and sensor data. This is through enabling users to send relevant health data to their physicians and/or health facilities. Such data will also assist in better control of effects of health on population, both short and long term hence inform strategy to focus on relevant target groups, eg. Ageing population.

CloudMinds alone has deployed 100 robots in the country’s hospitals. A few modified robots and the Smart Transportation Robot carry food and medicine to patients from healthcare providers without any human contact.

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Health Sensors & Apps

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Utilizing its sophisticated and expansive surveillance network for public good, the Chinese government joined hands with tech giants Alibaba and Tencent to develop a color-coded health rating system that is tracking millions of people daily. It assigns three colors to people — green, yellow and red — based on their travel and medical histories.

Whether a person should be quarantined or allowed in public spaces was decided based on the color code. Citizens must log into the app using pay wallet services like Alibaba’s Alipay, Ant’s wallet, etc. Only those people who were assigned a green color code could be allowed in public spheres after using the designated QR code at metro stations, offices and other public places. There were checkpoints at most public places where the code and a person’s body temperature were checked. 

Drones

 In some of the severely affected areas, where humans are at a risk of catching the virus, drones come to the rescue. Drones are transporting both medical equipment and patient samples, saving time and enhancing the speed of deliveries, while preventing contamination of medical samples.

Drones are also flying with QR code placards that could be scanned to register health information. Agricultural drones are spraying disinfectants in the countryside. Drones powered with facial recognition are also being used to broadcast warnings to the citizens to not step out of their homes and chide them for not wearing face masks.
Antwork, a group company of Japanese dronemaker Terra Drone, carried medical samples and other essential materials in Xinchang when the city was grappling with the virus.

Big Data & Facial Recognition

 Access to public information has led to the creation of dashboards that are continuously monitoring the virus. Several organizations are developing dashboards using Big Data. Face recognition and infrared temperature detection techniques have been installed in all leading cities. Chinese AI companies like SenseTime and Hanwang Technology have claimed to come up with a special facial recognition technology that can accurately recognize people even if they are masked.

Smartphone apps are also being used to keep a tab on people’s movements and ascertain whether they have been in contact with an infected person. Al Jazeera reported that telecom company China Mobile sent text messages to state media agencies, informing them about the people who have been infected. The messages included all the details about the people’s travel history. CCTV cameras have also been installed at most locations to ensure that those who are quarantined don’t step out.

Autonomous Vehicles

At a time of severe crunch of healthcare professionals and the risk of people-to-people contact, autonomous vehicles are proving to be of great utility in delivering essential goods like medicines and food items. Apollo, which is Baidu’s autonomous vehicle platform, has joined hands with self-driving startup Neolix to deliver supplies and food to a big hospital in Beijing. Baidu Apollo has also made its micro-car kits and autonomous driving Cloud services available for free to companies fighting the virus.
Idriverplus, a Chinese self-driving company that operates electric street cleaning vehicles, is also a part of the mission. The company’s flagship vehicles are being used to disinfect hospitals.

 

Advanced Machine Learning

Advanced machine learning (ML) models can now produce data for areas where data has been historically difficult or impossible to access in Africa. This reliable, new information can describe the demography, lifestyle, and health characteristics of specific neighborhoods, even in remote areas.

In the face of significant unknowns, granular information about at-risk populations is invaluable to those fighting the disease on the front lines. Equipped with these insights, organizations and governments can quickly understand disparate regions and make decisions based on localized needs across the continent.

Contact Tracing

Earlier this year, Singapore launched the TraceTogether app, which uses Bluetooth to trace interactions between users of the app. The app stores data on individual phones, but in the event of a positive COVID-19 result, authorities will request the data to alert those who may have been exposed.

As a by-product of contact tracing, the total number of close contacts is also counted. Reducing and containing the spread of the virus at a macro level will require limiting the maximum number of social interactions to a level that is within the healthcare system’s ability to cope. Imagine if everyone had a limited budget of close contacts to manage as they like. Different people would choose different activities as their top priorities.

 Gamification offers the opportunity to do the things that are the most important and skip those that matter less. Right now, governments are deciding between allowing people to go to restaurants versus attending a choir practice or participating in a team sport. People should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves.

As countries move away from total lockdowns, contact tracing will remain a key part of reducing transmissions. In addition to this functionality, enterprise architects and technology innovation leaders can look to apps that focus on gamification to encourage specific behaviors like hand washing or reduced social interaction.

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