June 19, 2020

Heraclitus once said that change is the only constant in life, and this statement holds true in our current climate. As Covid-19 leaves a trail of economic carnage, companies have had to rethink their business models or reinvent themselves, while managing remote teams or reducing the number of staff in the office to less than 50 per cent. Even Facebook and Twitter have allowed some of its employees to work from home indefinitely. In Japan, where telecommuting may not be feasible, employees come into the workplace at staggered hours to reduce transmission of the virus.

Consumer patterns are changing as well. According to research from Nielsen, waves of consumers are venturing into e-commerce, and that trend will likely continue. Almost 70 per cent of those who purchased household goods online for the first time during Covid-19, will do so again in the next twelve months. On the dining front, ordering takeaway or home-cooked meals have been de rigueur.

If history is any guide, Covid-19 wont go away anytime soon until a vaccine is ready. When the Spanish flu hit in 1918, the second wave of infections claimed even more lives than the first. Yet amid the doom and gloom triggered by the outbreak, mankind’s ability to be creative in its darkest hour hasn’t waned. Here are five noteworthy innovations that are supporting the global fight against Covid-19.

Using AI to Detect Covid-19

The medical community has been very critical of Covid-19 test kits, because of its inability to detect asymptomatic carriers. Additionally, the typical SARS-CoV-2 virus-specific reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test takes up to two days to show results. With a shortage of test kits and a high rate of false negatives, there is an urgent need to diagnose Covid-19 positive patients quickly and cheaply.

Armed with data collected from previous patients, researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital created an AI algorithm to analyse results from CT scans, clinical information, or both combined. The algorithm then makes a diagnosis that has an accuracy equivalent to that of a senior thoracic radiologist. Out of 25 patients who were wrongly diagnosed as Covid-negative, it managed to correctly identify 17 patients who were Covid-positive.

According to the researchers, this proof of concept means that such a system can be deployed worldwide and integrated with hospitals. Doing so would allow vast amounts of data to be mined, thus improving the accuracy of virus detection.

Hands-Free 3D-Printed Door Opener

Door handles are among the most contaminated surfaces due to its high frequency of use, which is a hotspot for the transmission of Covid-19 from person to person. Recognising that risk, 3D printing company Materialise has been sharing free design files for its hands-free door opener. A user can place their elbows or wrists on these 3D-printed components, attached to a door handle, instead of using their hands.

Since most door handles have standardised measurements, a worldwide implementation can be easily executed since the design files are free to download. Manufacturers with 3D printing capabilities can print it royalty-free, and make it a common feature on door handles to prevent the spread of the virus.

Henry Ford Innovation Institutes Covid-19 Protective Equipment

Source: YouTube

Doctors and nurses have been battling hard to treat Covid-19 patients. However, that puts them at a higher risk of infection. To safeguard their welfare, the Henry Ford Innovation Institute has stepped up to the plate by building a plexiglass box which minimises the risk of exposure to the virus, when tubes are placed into a patient’s throat. The see-through box allows the doctor to continue working on the patient in a more protected setting.

QR Codes to Flatten the Curve

Although China is the epicentre of the coronavirus and is often blamed for the spread of the virus, we cannot deny the level of innovation coming out of the country—born out of sheer necessity. Since China has eased its lockdown (for the most part sans Beijing), authorities and some of the largest technology companies in the country have collaborated to find a way to flatten the curve.

In over 100 cities in China, scanning a QR code at a checkpoint has become a part of everyday life. Before entering a market or an apartment complex, a security guard at a checkpoint scans a health application embedded in a users WeChat or AliPay app. Next, the guard is notified of the user’s risk status, which determines if the visitor can pass through.

The application is first populated with data provided by the provincial government. Once a user downloads the app, he has to answer a series of questions that classify the user into one of three risk categories: green, yellow or red. As a user goes about his daily life, more data is collected, and the app assigns a health code to the user, akin to a ‘health passport.’ Green means a user can roam freely within the city, while red means that a user must undergo a 14-day quarantine.

The app is not perfect by any means as it requires human enforcement and high rates of compliance for it to be effective. However, this is a good way to track the spread of infections. Countries like Singapore and India have followed suit—creating their own version of such applications. Singapore has TraceTogether, a contact tracing application that has been downloaded by about a fifth of its population, and is in the process of developing a wearable device.

Creating Ventilators Using Car Parts

Source: YouTube

When Elon Musk announced that he would repurpose Tesla factories to produce much-needed ventilators for New York hospitals, many sceptics doubted his ability to deliver. However, Elon Musk proved detractors wrong by assembling a ‘packaged version’ using car parts that function as a gas mixing chamber, a network of flow rate sensors, pressure sensors, filters, pipes and valves. The ventilator also connects to a display touchscreen which is powered by Model 3, the infotainment system found in Tesla cars.

According to its engineers, the ventilators volume and pressure control mechanisms help acute patients to breath better. Furthermore, each has a backup system in place consisting of an oxygen tank, a backup battery and an air compressor, which gives an on-the-move patient 20 to 40 minutes of additional oxygen. This can be used in ambulances that transport patients from one location to another.

When there are challenges, human ingenuity will rise to meet them. The will to survive and adapt has always been a part of the indomitable human spirit. In a crisis such as this, innovation will be a cornerstone of survival and growth—and companies that can adapt and add value will gain significant brand equity. Although the pandemic has driven many to the edge of despair, it has also tested our mettle and brought out the best in us.