How technology is being used to fight against CoronaVirus?

Following the Ebola virus outbreak between 2014-16, many investigations have been made to ensure that we learn lessons from the past epidemics and understand how to prepare for the next. Philanthropists such as Paul Allen and Bill Gates, also called NGOs and governments to consider the epidemic as a wake-up call as they believed that the next outbreak could be more widespread.

And, we all must have heard about the current outbreak of CoronaVirus disease (COVID-19) that was first reported from Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019. Widely spreading diseases like COVID-19 are a huge concern for medical professionals everywhere around the world.

As COVID-19 continues to spread widely and claim lives, we will tell you how technology is helping halt the outbreak in this article. Authorities and citizens in Wuhan are using technology to warn people walking outside without masks and take their temperature from a distance using drones.

Many technologies have been adopted in China to control the deadly virus spread across the country. Also, we have come up with some of the possible technological ideas that could possibly help control the outbreak.

In this article, you will be able to understand how technologies are being used in the different stages of epidemics:

Detect

1. Thermal Imaging Equipment used for scanning body temperature

Authorities at the airport and public places are using thermal imaging equipment to detect if a person’s body temperature is above the normal range. In case it is detected to be high, the authorities are keeping records and suggesting the person to the medical authorities for further treatments.

Thermal screening cameras have been installed at airports across many countries that are being used to screen travellers flying in from China. These devices are used to detect body temperature and find who has a higher body temperature or who is running a high fever.

How do thermal imaging scanners work?

Every live object emits some heat or infrared energy. Unlike cameras that capture light reflected by objects, thermal imaging cameras use heat sensors to capture the heat of the body of the person to produce a 2D image with different temperature levels. When someone stands in front of the camera, the hotter objects are highlighted on the computer screens with a varied colour palette. Images above represent live camera feed merged with multiple layer of data including heat images, meta information and other metrics.

It is possible to adjust cameras in a way that they can detect abnormal body temperatures, for example, 101 degrees. Every image pixel is associated with the temperature; therefore, a higher resolution camera scanner provides more detailed images.

Thermal scanners are being used widely at airports because checking every passenger’s body temperature with thermometers can be a nightmare and cause delays at immigration counters. Thermal cameras have the potential to scan the large crowd and spot individuals with high temperatures. Once authorities identify people with high fever, they send them for further screening.

2. Drones with Contactless Thermal Cameras to check quarantined temperatures

A Chinese city is using drones equipped with thermal camera scanners to detect the temperatures of people in quarantine to stop the spread of CoronaVirus. The high-tech monitoring devices identify the person with the highest body temperature in a crowd before sharing this information with medical professionals.

Chinese authorities have also deployed unmanned aerial vehicles for dropping food, disinfectant products and face masks.

The technique of using thermal cameras with drones is defined as aerial thermography.

What is Aerial Thermography and how it works?

Thermal cameras are used to detect radiation within the electromagnetic spectrum and produce pictures of that radiation called thermographs. Aerial thermography includes both an unmanned aerial device and an infrared camera scanning.

Since conventional aircraft seems to be dangerous and expensive for thermography, drones can boast on higher safety level and affordable costs. Therefore, drones are being used by Chinese authorities to detect the body temperature of the large crowds in the street and sending their data to health officials so that treatments could be started effectively.

3. Using AI to fight against Coronavirus

Tracking people movement within cities using Face Recognition: China is using AI and ML-based tools to detect Coronavirus cases. A man who travelled to Wuhan was shocked after he returned to his home when the police officer visited his home and asked him to check his temperature. The man said that he had not informed anyone about his trip to Wuhan. 

However, by tracking through travel data, local authorities were able to identify him and send officers to his home. 

Many apps have been developed to help people check if they have taken the same train or flight as confirmed virus patients. 

In Southern Guangdong province, robots have been deployed to rebuke passersby without masks. 

AI uses an Event-based surveillance system that captures unstructured data from various sources, including social media, internet and official reports, to track and detect the evidence of the threat. 

Chinese authorities use Healthmap, an EBS tool that uses Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning and Text Processing. COVID-19’s data visualization by Healthmap reveals China covered with coloured dots. Yellow colour shown by Healthmap means less than 10 cases have been reported in a specific location, while dark shades of orange show higher concentrations of infections. Red colour dots represent that more than 50 people have been infected. HealthMap is being used as a data source in the Early Reporting and Alerting project.  

4. Mobile apps have been launched to fight against CoronaVirus 

China has developed an app, “Close Contact Detector,” that aims to mitigate the spread of the CoronaVirus that has sickened more than 42,000 people and claimed more than 1,000 lives.

The app is designed to let users understand if they’re at risk of catching the disease based on how close in proximity they’ve been to an infected person or a person suspected of being infected.

Users scan a QR code on their smartphone with apps such as Alipay, WeChat or QQ to check their status. Once the app gets registered with the phone, users need to enter their name and ID number. Every registered phone can be used to check the status of three other IDs.

It has not been revealed how the app determines the exposure. However, it represents close contact when someone without adequate protection has come within a close distance of someone with signs of having the coronavirus symptoms.

It helps people aware who share the same house or classroom, work closely together and passengers on mass transit where a patient has been present.

Also, Alibaba, a tech giant, has set up a platform to supply medical aid for CoronaVirus.

The two, Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings, created colour-based systems to record the health of individuals and identify causes of the coronavirus.

Last week, Alipay, a payment app by Alibaba, launched a system that uses coloured QR Codes to show the health of people in the city of Hangzhou. Once the QR code is recognized, the phone redirects the user to an internet link with information about a subject.

Users then need to complete an online form that reports their official identification number and requires additional information. Individuals have to enter details about recent travel outside the city, and anything that they might be infected, such as high body temperature or strong cough.

After completing the questionnaire, users receive a message on their phone. It includes a colour-based QR Code that associates with the health situation they have mentioned.

Users who receive a red code are recommended to quarantine themselves for 14 days and continue reporting their condition using Alibaba’s DingTalk messaging app. On the other hand, users with a yellow code are told to quarantine for 7 days, while those with a green code can travel freely.

Above are the technologies and methods that are being used in China to detect and control CoronaVirus. Since the deadly infectious disease is expanding across the world, our experts have also recommended some of the possible solutions that can help control disease on a wider scale. 

Mobile Imaging Platform for digital influenza Virus Counting

Not sure if it is a production-grade device, however, here is an interesting whitepaper explaining Droplet-based digital bioassays that enable biomolecules analysis.

Source: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2019/LC/C9LC00370C#!divAbstract

Possible AI-based System for Detection and Prevention of CoronaVirus

An AI-based system can have a hardware layer that performs heat analysis of people to detect their body temperature and analyze symptoms of CoronaVirus. The data captured by the heat scanner can be sent to the cloud. The AI-based application can be used to detect faces of people using Face recognition and map their facial data with readings of heat scanner.

AI-based systems can then be installed at entrances of public places, including schools, metro stations, shopping malls or airports where the facial data mapped with the heat data allows or denies the entry of people in a specific area. Also, the system can recommend a person to quarantine for some days if it detects the person is infected with a high fever.

Contain

1. Contactless food delivery 

While the coronavirus is expanding across the globe, online sales in china & food delivery are growing as people have a fear of going out. Big brands, including KFC and Pizza Hut, have launched contactless delivery service amid coronavirus in China. 

Customers have the option to select the “contactless delivery” when placing an online order and couriers call them to set a delivery location. The courier watches customers receiving the food from 10 feet away. 

McDonald’s has also implemented contactless delivery and pickup of Big Macs, Fries and other items across China. Customers order on mobile phones or via computers in-store and employees pack the meals in bags and keep them in a special spot for pickup without human contact.

 

Drivers deliver McDonald’s packages at building entrances, disinfect the delivery bags and wash their hands more frequently for delivery orders. Drivers carry ID cards to show that they and the people who cooked and packed their food – had their body temperature scanned to prove they are not infected with a fever.

 

Starbucks recommends that customers order coffee using its app and wait outside its cafes until they receive a pick-up message. Orders can be picked up from tables placed inside cafe entrances.

If customers want to enter Starbucks cafes, they need to get their body temperature scanned at the door, as fever is one of the main symptoms of infection. Starbucks is providing delivery via ele.me robot, owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

2. Robots ensuring contactless delivery

Chinese e-commerce giants are enhancing the deployment of robots to deliver orders in order to prevent the spread of deadly CoronaVirus. One of the delivery apps in China, Meituan Dianping that launched a contactless delivery told that it has started using autonomous vehicles for delivering grocery items to customers in the Shunyi district in Beijing.

The contactless delivery ecosystem aims to minimize the spread of infection caused by human contact while meeting the needs of people at this time. Autonomous vehicles deployed for delivery can carry up to 100 kgs of goods and deliver 3-4 orders per trip.

JD.com, a Beijing-based company, has also started sending medical supplies to Ninth Hospital and grocery items to local communities via autonomous vehicles in Wuhan City.

3. Vending Machines ensuring contactless commerce

JD.com’s supermarket chain, 7Fresh, has deployed five vending machines in Tongzhou that allow customers to buy groceries without human contact.

Customers scan a QR code on the machines, open the door and take away items with them. Vending machines automatically deduct payments from the users’ digital wallets.

Also, AI-driven fruit vending machines are providing Chinese customers with a new way of buying fruits and vegetables. Each unit of AI fruit vending machine contains 24 smaller sections with a different variety of fruits or vegetables. Each section of fruits or vegetables has a built-in set of scales. When customers choose the fruit, they can use AliPay or WeChat app to scan the QR code on vending machines and open the specific section. Payment can be made via AliPay or WeChat. Vending machines have feature cameras on both sides, enabling them to control customers who operate machines.

4. Schools and Universities using Online Education Programs to teach online

Due to the CoronaVirus outbreak, parents are not allowing children to go outside the home and turning to online education programs.

For example, due to the CoronaVirus crisis, Duke Kunshan University has launched an online learning program that ensures to keep the first-class education of students on track. The university has created a digital teaching plan with the updated syllabus and course schedules using the latest technologies.

Many schools and universities in China have adopted live streaming and pre-recorded classes for students. Even traditional bricks and mortar schools in China have started to explore online education opportunities. Teachers are learning skills to speak naturally in the front using a digital red pen during PowerPoint presentations.

China’s Ministry of Education has also planned to launch a national internet cloud-based classroom that would provide a complete range of teaching materials for students. Many online teaching companies are also providing their services for free during the outbreak. For example, TAL Education declared its official Weibo account free live-streaming courses for all students to minimize the influence of COVID-19 on studies.

The health crisis has resulted in an increasing demand for online learning platforms. iResearch Consulting Group reveals that China’s online education market grew from 25.7 percent per year in 2018 to 251.7 billion yuan.

5. Disinfectant Tunnel has been deployed to sanitize employees

A company in Chongqing has developed a disinfectant tunnel to spay employees at an industrial complex before they go to work. The tunnel has infrared detectors that automatically activate a spray when a person enters in.

Workers need to get sanitized before work and the sterilizing system of the tunnel cleans the people on their way to work within 20 seconds using the medical disinfectant spray.

 

6. BlueDot Algorithm (AI-driven infectious disease surveillance)

Bluedot algorithm is designed to protect people around the world from deadly contagious diseases with Artificial Intelligence and Human. Bluedot Explorer is a cloud-based GIS platform that integrates more than 100 diverse datasets that include real-time disease surveillance and global air travel.

The company, Bluedot, notified its customers about the new type of CoronaVirus at the end of December month, even before WHO and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially declared about the CoronaVirus.

Bluedot’s founder and CEO, Kamran Khan, explained how their early-warning system uses AI, including Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing, to track more than 100 infectious diseases by analyzing around 100,000 articles in 65 languages every day. The analyzed data helps the company understand when to notify about the spread and presence of an infectious disease.

Bluedot can also capture an array of data, including the area’s climate, local livestock, and temperature to predict if someone who is infected with a disease can cause an outbreak in that area.

7. Self-driving Disinfection Robots for Hospitals

Danish-designed self-designed robots are being shipped to China for disinfection in hospitals. Self-driving robots from UVD robots release concentrated UV-C light from bulb columns on top of a wheeled base. The UV-C light has a germicidal effect that can kill bacteria and airborne viruses on the surface.

Cure

1. AI helping in the development of vaccines for CoronaVirus

Just like HIV, Ebola, Influenza and SARS, the 2019-nCoV is an RNA virus. The single-strand structure of CoronaVirus makes it receptive to mutation and more complex to develop vaccines.

Alibaba Cloud provided its AI computing capabilities free to global public research institutions to help accelerate virus gene sequencing, protein screenings and new drug R&D.

Alibaba Cloud and a Beijing-based Global Health Drug Discovery Institute (GHDDI) together launched a big data platform that archives historical drug R&D for coronaviruses to make clinical and preclinical information available and offer a platform to examine new virus variants.

Since Coronavirus RNA sequences are spatially fluid, their structure is used for determining the function of RNA that helps in designing molecular drugs and detectors. As compared to the classic algorithms that are time-consuming, deep learning algorithms are more significant in large-scale repetitive calculations.

For example, the Baidu linear time, the “LinearFold” algorithm takes only 27 seconds to recognize and solve the RNA structure of the 2019-nCOV that is almost 120 times faster than classic algorithms.

Recently, Baidu Research Institute opened LinearFold to epidemic prevention centers, scientific research centers and genetic testing institutions for free. It is expected that the research and prediction will be continuously accelerated on the 2019-nCOV RNA structure.

2. Technology aiding better patient care for CoronaVirus

Healthcare applications on the smartphone are leveraging the power of machine learning and AI to provide real-time insights into an array of health measurements. Patients who are not feeling well and suffering from the symptoms of the CoronaVirus can consult a doctor via a video call, allowing patients to stay at home instead of coming into close contact with people.

Virtual consultations can be linked with apps that provide physicians with healthcare data, for example, blood pressure data, heart rate, stress levels and oxygen levels. 

Knowledge

News about the contagious disease that appeared in Wuhan in late December is now everywhere recently. With the increasing number of cases, it is clear that you will wonder how likely it is that your loved one or you will be infected with COVID-19. 

To provide the latest information about the expanding CoronaVirus, many social media networks have started to distribute fake or misleading content related to disease statistics and prevention. 

1. Solving Fake News Problem with technology

Journalists and researchers have documented an increasing number of cases of misinformation/fake news about the virus, ranging from disease’s origin to false claims about miracle cures.  

When it comes to managing fake news, none could have done a better job than Facebook. Since Facebook handles trillions of user posts, it realized that checking facts manually cannot solve the problem of fake news. Facebook turned to AI to address this issue. 

AI can be leveraged to analyze words or patterns of words to put light on fake news stories. AI can now be considered as the cornerstone to separate the good from bad in the field of news and journalism. By learning behaviour quickly through pattern recognition, the power of artificial intelligence can be harnessed to detect false or misleading information on the internet with the utmost accuracy. 

 

We believe technology has a long way to go before it can help coronavirus or any such disease outbreak. Technology or invention needs time; we need to invest in it proactively.

About the Author

Akash Takyar is the founder of LeewayHertz, a software development company. He holds a Masters Degree in Computer Science. His experience of building over 100+ platforms allows him to rapidly architect and design solutions. His ability to explain complex technologies in simple and practical ways has helped LeewayHertz become a recognized leader in the software development space. He is also a consultant to Fortune 500 companies including Siemens, 3M, Hershey’s and others.

Author’s Bio

Akash Takyar
Akash Takyar
CEO LeewayHertz
Akash Takyar is the founder and CEO at LeewayHertz. With the experience of building over 100+ platforms for startups and enterprise allows Akash to rapidly architect and design solutions that are scalable and beautiful.
Akash's ability to build enterprise-grade technology solutions has attracted over 30 Fortune 500 companies, including Siemens, 3M, P&G and Hershey’s. Akash is an early adopter of new technology, a passionate technology enthusiast, and an investor in AI and IoT startups.