New-age warriors against coronavirus: Robots, drones, chatbots, apps

Drones spraying disinfectant across large areas, robots dispensing hand sanitiser, apps analysing coughs to see if they are ‘dry’ or ‘wet’, and AI techniques normally used for detecting tuberculosis being tweaked so that they can detect the virus, are some of the contributions of Indian startups to the fight against the contagion.

As the nation moves into a 21-day lockdown, start-ups, far from letting their spirits sink, are rising to the occasion by building drones, chatbots, apps, and robots to help healthcare professionals fighting on the Covid-19 frontline.

General Aeronautics, a Bengaluru-based aerospace engineering startup, has deployed its drones to spray disinfectant across the city. “We have sprayed disinfectant in crowded areas such as KR Market and Majestic and will continue for the next 10 days to cover most parts of the city,” said Abhishek Burman, founder and CEO.

The disinfectant, a mixture of sanitiser and bleaching powder, is being sprayed in areas where garbage has piled up to prevent the spread of any further infections.

In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Garuda Aerospace, a Chennai-based startup, is also helping the civic bodies to spray disinfectant using drones with the help of engineering students from Agni College of Technology.

For those fretting about the health of quarantined loved ones, Healthcare start-up Dozee is giving out its heartbeat and respiration monitor for free to those quarantined within Bengaluru city limits.

A brainchild of IIT alumni Mudit Dandwate and Gaurav Parchani, Dozee is a portable device which gives continuous respiration data without the need for wires or technical expertise.

Attached to a thin sensor sheet which goes below the mattress, the device is kept underneath the patient’s chest area and, Dozee says, gives 98 per cent accurate data. “This will help ease the anxiety of loved ones as currently they have limited means to know the health status of those quarantined at home,” said Dandwate, CEO.

Several start-ups are also working to help reduce the burden on healthcare workers. Asimov Robotics began by using its robots to dispense sanitisers and distribute masks to the employees of various startups in Kochi in Kerala. Now it is looking to deploying robots called Karmi-bots to assist Covid-19 patients in isolation wards by carrying food to them.

Sophisticated medical equipment is being tweaked to meet current needs. For example, Sequoia-backed healthcare startup has modified the AI solutions it had created earlier to help detect diseases like tuberculosis from X-rays.

“Previously, our solution could automatically generate chest X-ray interpretation reports, detect tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and lung malignancies. Now, it can additionally interpret an X-ray to detect findings indicative of Covid-19 and even quantify the proportion of lungs affected due to the lesions,” said Prashant Warier, CEO of Qure.

This can be used by healthcare workers for screening patients who need to undergo further testing and the readings could help reduce the burden on healthcare infrastructure.

The Mumbai-based start-up has also developed an app-based solution, qSCOUT, for healthcare providers to use in contact tracing and remote triaging of infected patients.

By now, most people know that a dry cough is one of the symptoms. Health technology startup Mfine is building an AI-based cough analysis feature that records the sound of a cough and predicts both if it is a wet or dry cough and also if the infection is in the upper or lower respiratory system.

The idea is to increase the chances of detecting Covid-19 patients. “It is currently in the pilot phase and we are collecting more data to make it accurate. Once it is 95 per cent accurate, we will roll it out in the market,” said Prasad Kompalli, co-founder of the Bengaluru-based start-up.

Apps are also being rolled out to keep track of patients and disseminate reliable information related to the virus. Eka Software in Bangalore has announced the launch of a Covid-19 Risk Monitoring Application which aims to help commodity companies assess and mitigate the supply chain risk.

In a similar vein, healthcare company Portea has developed a chatbot called Cobot-19 which can disseminate information. It will collect data from trusted sources including the World Health Organization, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and Johns Hopkins University and share it with the general public.

The Kerala government, which has been on a war footing since January when the first case was reported in the state, has tied up with Qkopy, a startup, to launch a mobile app called GOK Direct. This app will disseminate information on guidelines for travellers, quarantine protocol, and health and safety tips.

“The advantage is that we can also send out specific messages targeting only those people who are in quarantine or who have been tested positive,” said Rajiv Surendran, co-founder and COO of QKopy.

Similarly, Chennai-based Pixxon AI Solutions has tied up the state police to offer quarantine monitoring services. Those who are under quarantine for Covid-19 will get a link from the police which they need to install in their mobile phone. Once installed, the app will track the patient and send his or her location to the command centre every 15 minutes.

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