By Shriya Roy
With every passing hour, the world continues to grapple with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. The novel Coronavirus that first appeared in China has now spread its web across the globe, affecting many with each passing day. The deadly virus outbreak has, however, prompted innovation and the coming forth of various technologies. Tech, AI-powered or otherwise, is being seen in full swing to combat the little-known virus. New technologies are becoming commonplace as scientists and innovators are leaving no stone unturned to contain the spread and the far-reaching effects of COVID-19. At a time when school, colleges, jobs and daily life is at a standstill, technology has already started to make a difference.
The most commonly used device at the moment across the world has been the infrared thermometer. Although relatively new, these thermometers have become potentially commonplace across airports and other public places. In China, which was the epicenter of the virus outbreak, health workers have been measuring people's temperature on a regular basis. The advantage of this device is that it allows one to measure the temperature from a distance without any immediate body contact.
Futuristic technology, combined with artificial intelligence, is helping scientists and health workers identify the symptoms of Coronavirus, find new treatments, and track its spread. AI-based robots are making interactions with sick patients easier. The contagion is hard to contain, and thus a reduction of human-to-human interaction has become a necessity. Remote communication has become a dire need of the hour. Be it in hospitals, or public places, these robots are being used to disinfect rooms, deliver medication, or communicate with isolated individuals.
These medical robots have been a game-changer, reducing the potential danger to the life of health workers. One such robot which is already in use in the US allowed doctors at a hospital to communicate with a patient diagnosed with Coronavirus, via a screen, and it was equipped with a stethoscope to take the patient's vitals. Meanwhile, in China, hospitals are now shipping in robots, from Danish company UVD Robots, that can disinfect patient rooms, according to a statement. UVD Robots says, "The roving robotic pods work by emitting ultraviolet light throughout an area, killing viruses and bacteria, including Coronavirus. The robots are remotely controlled by a device operated by a health worker." Shenzhen-based company Multicopter is using robots to transport medical samples as well. According to a report by Reuters, a small robot called Little Peanut delivered food to passengers who were on a flight from Singapore to Hangzhou, China, and are currently being quarantined in a hotel.
Be it bad weather or a pandemic, air purifiers seem to always come in handy. Some brands like IQ Air's HealthPro 250 have claimed to keep the air free of Coronavirus. The product has been used at hospitals in China's Wuhan to keep the air clean. The device effectively filters harmful, ultra-fine pollution particles.
Drones are also being used to counter the pandemic spread. Shenzhen MicroMultiCopter company in a statement said, "We are deploying drones to patrol public places, spray disinfectant, and conduct thermal imaging." Chinese officials have already been using drones to track whether people are travelling outside without wearing face masks or violating other quarantine rules. Drones have also come to the rescue in various parts of China by transporting both medical equipment and patient samples.
China has put its sophisticated surveillance network to use to fight the virus. The Chinese government joined hands with tech giants Alibaba and Tencent to develop a colour-coded health rating system that is tracking millions of people daily. The app assigns three colours to people-green, yellow or red-on the basis of their travel and medical histories. Whether a person should be quarantined or allowed in public spaces is decided based on the colour code. Citizens have to mandatorily log in to the app, and only those who have been given a green colour code are allowed in public spheres after using the designated QR code.
The outbreak has also prompted a major push for facial recognition. Companies like China's SenseTime have developed a software that can identify people without face masks. Although the technology's threat to civil liberties has been questioned constantly, other tech giants like Panasonic and FacePro in the US have also developed systems to identify if people are wearing masks. The growing need to counter the pandemic has also prompted these companies to integrate their technology with thermal imaging. 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. CCTV cameras have also been installed at most locations to ensure that those who are quarantined don't step out.
Touch-free biometric systems, interactive maps for monitoring movement and track reported cases are also in the list of tech innovations that were prompted by the virus outbreak.
The Coronavirus pandemic has become a global calamity, leaving millions vulnerable, economies shattered, and cities under lockdown. Beneath this deep dark cloud, these tech innovations are sure to be the silver lining.