Covid-19 Tech Bits: April 14

Modeling a COVID-19 cough; Apple-Google tracking deal; laser-based saliva test.


Modeling coronavirus spread
Four teams of Finnish researchers have modeled the coughing spread of COVID-19 in tight indoor areas, such as grocery stores and public transportation systems, using a supercomputer and 3D visualization.

“The aerosol cloud spreads outside the immediate vicinity of the coughing person and dilutes in the process,” said Aalto University Assistant Professor Ville Vuorinen. “However, this can take up to several minutes. Someone infected by the coronavirus, can cough and walk away, but then leave behind extremely small aerosol particles carrying the coronavirus. These particles could then end up in the respiratory tract of others in the vicinity.

Researchers from Aalto University, the Finnish Meteorological Institute, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and the University of Helsinki carried out the modeling independently using the same conditions and came up with the same preliminary result. (See Fig. 1)

Fig. 1: How COVID-19 spreads. Source: Aalto University / Finnish Meteorological Institute / VTT / University of Helsinki, animation: Mikko Auvinen and Antti Hellsten

Contact tracing tools
In a rare and somewhat controversial partnership, Apple and Google teamed up on a solution using application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in contact tracking of COVID-19. The companies released draft technical documentation, including Bluetooth and cryptographic specs, along with a framework API.

Quantum computing
Canada-based D-Wave Systems is permitting COVID-19 researchers access to its quantum systems via the Leap quantum cloud service. According to the D-Wave site, “by providing free access to Leap’s quantum processing resources and quantum expertise, D-Wave and its partners hope to contribute to finding solutions to the COVID-19 crisis. Through this new initiative, anyone developing responses to the pandemic can immediately get unlimited, commercial contract-level access to the recently launched Leap2.”

Light technology
European photonics researchers are developing a new saliva test that can detect COVID-19 instantly with lasers at earlier points of infection. A consortium of four partners quickly modified a pre-existing device in just eight days in response to the pandemic. According to Photonics21 site, “using photonics – technology that manipulates light – the ultra-sensitive demonstrator could detect ‘day 1’ infections on patients who have a low viral load, representing a breakthrough in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.”

Ultraviolet light is being used to disinfect and kill viruses and bacteria autonomously with Denmark based UVD Robots, limiting the spread of COVID-19 without exposing hospital personnel. According to the company site, “The concentrated UV-C light emitted by the robots as they drive has a germicidal effect that removes virtually all airborne viruses and bacteria on the surfaces of a room.”

Fig. 2: Disinfecting robots. Source: UVD Robots


Robots and wearables
COVID-19 presents an opportunity for robotics, drones and wearables to showcase the latest technologies in sensors, 3D modeling, thermal imaging, simulation and more.

KC Wearable’s smart helmet is being used for contactless screening of fevers in public places first in China, with additional orders now coming in from the rest of the world. Applications include screening upon office building entry, use in hospitals to avoid cross-infections between patients and doctors, and use in public transportation areas. The technology utilizes Arm’s cortex A53 processor, DDR, eMMC 64GB and a weight of approximately 2.5 lbs., according to the company’s website.

XAG robots and drones are being deployed to disinfect playgrounds, schools, ambulances and crowded areas. XAG manufactures agricultural drones and is headquartered in Guangzhou, China.

Pittsburgh-based Aethon’s TUB autonomous delivery robots are delivering medications, lab specimens, meals and linens in hospitals everywhere, minimizing the human spread of the virus.

The very first identified COVID-19 patient in the United States was treated with California-based Teladoc Health’s InTouch Vici system, featuring a high def pan-tilt-zoom camera, minimalist design and footprint.

And for enforcement of social distancing, DJI Mavic 2 UAV talking drones are being used to deliver an automated message.

AWS is providing experts with tools and data related to the virus in their public AWS COVID-19 data lake. According to AWS, the data is “hosted on the AWS cloud, we have seeded our curated data lake with COVID-19 case tracking data from Johns Hopkins and The New York Times, hospital bed availability from Definitive Healthcare, and over 45,000 research articles about COVID-19 and related coronaviruses from the Allen Institute for AI. We will regularly add to this data lake as other reliable sources make their data publicly available.” The data is in a “publicly readable Amazon S3 bucket.

A team of data analysts, scientists and developers have come together to create COVID knowledge graphs. The graphs integrate a number of public datasets and implemented in Neo4j, a graph database platform. According to the COVID*Graph website, “the project provides the data basis for understanding the processes involved in a coronavirus infection. Why is this virus so contagious? And why do such severe complications occur? Linking large data sets and evaluating them provides new insights and provides researchers with approaches and hypotheses for their further research work,” explains Dr. Martin Preusse, founder of Kaiser&Preusse, who co-initiated the COVID*Graph project.

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