The recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has shaken the globe. According to the World Health Organization there have now been over one million cases, and Statista reports an estimated 25% of the world is in some form of “lockdown.” In a bid to reduce the virus’s grip individuals, industries, and governments, have increasingly been turning to technology to help. This article will look at some of the innovative ways tech is being used in the fight against COVID-19.
In this article:
- Turning to drones
- Utilizing smartphones
- Helping supply with 3D printers
- Identifying via facial recognition
- Rise of the robots
- Tracking fever with thermal sensors
- Getting one step ahead with detection
1. Turning to Drones
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus drones have proved very versatile in their uses. In fact, the industry has reported an increase in business over the past two months, and analysts predict that this trend will only continue. Here are some of the ways drones have been used in the fight against the coronavirus:
It is well documented that one of the most effective ways to curb the spread of coronavirus is through hygiene measures. With that in mind, many nations have made sterilization efforts more efficient by adapting drones to spray aerial disinfectants over public spaces. It has been estimated by DJI, a world leader in drone technology, that the use of the technology in this way is 50 times faster than traditional methods.
The coronavirus outbreak has seen a “renewed interest” in deliveries of consumer goods by drones. This can be seen in the remote Anxin Archipelago, in the Chinese province of Guangdong, where in recent weeks several deliveries of consumer goods by drones were made. With strict counter-virus measures all over the country, China too has turned to drones to deliver vital medical supplies.
Perhaps the widest use of drones during the pandemic has been to communicate more effectively with residents. Authorities, in the US state of California, are currently exploring the possibility of utilizing drones to communicate with vulnerable populations, such as the homeless, to warn them of the severity of the outbreak. In France, police have used drones to remind citizens of social distancing restrictions, and in China, drones have been utilized to remind citizens to wear facial masks.
2. Utilizing smartphones
According to Statista, over 3 billion people around the world own a smartphone. The huge number of users, and also the general reliance on smartphones as part of everyday life, have made them a valuable asset in the battle against COVID-19.
The Verge reports that in the European Union, mobile carriers are providing location-based data to show whether residents are complying with social distancing measures. In Taiwan, a number of sources including The Register have reported that location-based data has been used to create effective “geo-fences” around quarantined individuals. In China, according to The Wired, popular apps WeChat and AliPay have been used to assign citizens "color codes" with these codes determining if individuals need to quarantine or not.
Scientists at Oxford University are currently exploring the feasibility of producing a smartphone app for instant contact tracing. It's suggested that the app would work through an algorithm that automatically notifies people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 using an instantaneous signal transmitted to a central server. The application is predicted to replace a weeks' work of manual contact tracing.
3. Helping supply with 3D printers
With news sources around the world reporting of shortages in the supply chain of specific medical equipment, 3D printers are helping to fill in this void. In the UK, car manufacturer Vauxhall is using its 3D printing capabilities to produce much-needed ventilators, similarly, a company in the US has begun mass printing nasal swabs, which can be used to test for the coronavirus. In Italy, engineers have even been able to create ventilators by using a 3D printer and snorkeling masks. The 3D printed designs for many medical supplies have also been made public, allowing anyone with the required equipment to help produce these critical products.
4. Identification via facial recognition
In a bid to keep residents off the streets as per social distancing measures, facial recognition technology is being used by some nations as a high-tech surveillance method. According to France 24, in Moscow, 100,000 cameras with facial recognition capabilities have been uploaded with the images and personal details of those under quarantine. Reuters reports that in China, this has been taken one step further with a firm developing technology that can successfully recognize people even when they are wearing masks.
5. The rise of the robots
Robots, like drones, can be used in several different ways to help reduce the spread of the virus. In Hong Kong, with nervousness surrounding the spread of the virus on public transport, an automated Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide Robot was deployed in the city’s Mass Transit Railway to improve hygiene. In a completely alternative use of robots, in Beijing, take-away customers have had their meals delivered by robots, limiting unnecessary human contact. Neolix, a urban-robo delivery truck manufacturer, has also claimed it's seen a surge in orders since the outbreak of the pandemic.
6. Tracking fever with thermal sensors
One of the associated symptoms of Coronavirus is a fever of over 38 degrees celsius. Therefore, some nations are using body temperature as a gauge of infection. Taiwan has been largely praised for its rapid response to stop the virus spread. One of the ways this was achieved was by using infrared sensors at the international airport to monitor body temperatures of incoming passengers, as well as checking the temperature of individuals before they entered public spaces, such as public transit.
China has been turning to increasingly innovative means to check body temperature. According to the South China Morning Post, security officials, in Hangzhou in eastern China, have been provided augmented reality glasses containing thermal imaging capabilities to measure an individual’s temperature. An automatic alert goes off when people with a fever are identified, and a record is made of it. In the Sichuan province of the country, officials have been issued smart helmets which again measure the temperature of anyone nearby, and sound an alarm if they are found to have a fever.
However, using temperature as a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus has also been challenged. The Washington Post reports that as a temperature only appears in infected individuals after a few days, for those in the early stages of the illness, or asymptomatic carriers, this type of detection will not be effective.
7. Getting one step ahead with detection
Arguably, one of the best methods in the battle against the coronavirus lies with detecting the virus hopefully before it has the opportunity to spread. In recent months, a start-up in Israel has been investigating the use of tech in establishing whether an individual is infected with the coronavirus purely from the sound of their voice. And, in an equally innovative step, a US company, has developed technology that can detect microbes and germs in the air.
The coronavirus pandemic is one of the most significant crises in the modern world. As with other crises of this scale, “the norm” is no longer good enough, paving the way for innovation. During such unprecedented times, technology providers should be willing to share their knowledge and network, in order to offer what help they can. It is currently unclear when the pandemic will end, but undoubtedly innovation and collaboration will be key to overcoming it.