The IoT Of COVID-19

Data is key to fighting a pandemic. IoT, AI and other tech working toward solutions.


Data from the Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile devices is providing a surprising view on the COVID-19 pandemic. Like an invisible hurricane churning over us, the pandemic’s effects are huge, but the tiny virus that causes it is very difficult to see directly.

Data can save lives. Early detection, isolating those who are positive, contact tracing and isolating those who had contact are key to controlling the spread. That implies data. Because of asymptomatic spread, again we are blind without testing everyone. Some countries got it right in the beginning by initiating strict controls, quick testing and contact tracing. They found a way to find the data they needed early to “flatten the curve.” Other countries — well, we are doing things a harder way. At least here in the U.S. and around the world, we have plenty of smart people working the problems and lot of admirable Macgyverism dealing with low medical supplies.

Putting our privacy concerns aside now, IoT and other data collection is looking promising.

Take temperatures, for instance. Temperature taking is important as a first sign of sickness. Looking at temperature and heart rate data may be one way to see virus clusters, such as IoT thermometers that can send temperature data back to a central location that can map hot spots. Kinsa has been sharing some of its data from IoT thermometers. Some universities in California are also studying if monitoring temperature and heart rates of health care workers using Oura smart rings and other wearables, can help predict if and when a worker gets sick.

AI is a key ingredient in IoT and other efforts to speed up finding at risk people and help with testing and triage. AI used to read chest X-rays, triage patients, track supplies and beds, says STAT article. Eventually quantum computers may be used in the fight to identify drugs that might help.

The location trackers in smart phones help us see who is moving around really, when we are supposed to be sheltering in place. Even sewers can give another clue. Several groups have been detecting virus in the sewer system tells us “it’s here.”

We are in the middle of it now. The observations we make today may or may not help make things better during this pandemic, but they will be important for improve public health in general and help us be ready for the next one. Perhaps in countries where we are concerned about abuse of our private information, these IoT investigations can give us an understanding of when we are willing to have our private information used for a public good.

We have no shortage of ideas now. The problem, as IEEE Spectrum points out, is a shortage of engineers. Also supply lines are a problem but maybe AI can help us think that one through, too, someday. Right now we’re just putting up a good fight. Bravo to all the people who are trying to make this better.


Carl says:

“The location trackers in smart phones help us see who is moving around really, when we are supposed to be sheltering in place.”

This is frightening. The solution has already become worse that the problem, and now we will start tracking the whereabouts of everyone. Once it starts it never stops.

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