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Fight against coronavirus: Hacking a solution to COVID-19 crisis

Ishaan Gera
Such ideas have already gained currency with state governments, but last week the Central government threw up a new challenge to the start-up community.

While the Indian corporates are doing their bit by contributing money and equipment to lead the fight against coronavirus, the real push has come from start-ups and young entrepreneurs who are figuring out innovative ways to fight the virus. For instance, Garuda, a Chennai-based start-up, has been using its drones to disinfect areas around a hospital. VAPcare, a Bengaluru-based health company, has made a CPAP device to help patients with breathing problems, which comes at one-fourth the cost of a ventilator.

Such ideas have already gained currency with state governments, but last week the Central government threw up a new challenge to the start-up community. Taking inspiration from Estonia's success at organising "Hack the Crisis" event in association with Garage48, which attracted 1,300 teams, the Indian government along with Garage48, organised a hackathon of its own from April 3-5. And, the results have been commendable.

Livestreamed on Facebook, the event got entries from 2,000 teams. The top-10 teams, decided on Monday in a Facebook Live event, showcased products ranging from apps to robots to address a range of issues that Covid-19 efforts would need to tackle. For instance, Big Bang Boom Solutions created a remotely operable ventilator system, which can be built from consumer durable components. The team said they wish to create an inexpensive DIY kit that could be set-up in primary healthcare centres across the country with little oversight. Another start-up, Team 132, had developed a UV disinfectant robot, which could be used autonomously to disinfect surfaces using UV light. The competition also showcased a hardware company called Vincence, which has created a Rs 27,000 device to monitor vitals like oxygen levels, pulse rate and provides a hospital management portal. Yet another start-up, Team 118, had developed a device which could be linked to a computer to analyse shortness of breath, a symptom of Covid-19.

The app developers also had some interesting solutions. R-TNT had developed a test management centre, which could handle the supply chain for testing facilities right from consumer requests to placing orders for testing kits. Researchers from Microsoft, Brown and Stanford developed a labelling app wherein unemployed can earn money assigning labels for products to be categorised online. Another team developed an AI doctor which can assess patients and then connect them with services like a doctors and radiologists.

Although the government is yet to announce distribution of prize money, these start-ups will go on to compete at the global "Hack the Crisis" event, which is to start on April 9 for a $130,000 prize.

Hackathons have been used regularly by companies and governments to crowdsource solutions. NITI Aayog each year organises hackathons, so it was not surprising to see the government organise a hackathon to combat the coronavirus crisis.

But the government will have to do more than just award start-ups for their innovation, it also needs to make sure that these ideas get implemented on the ground.