These (not so) new technologies fighting COVID-19
In the wake of coronavirus, a flood of ‘new technologies’ has swept through our daily lives. New? Not so much… Many are mostly pre-existing technologies pivoted toward new usages. Here is an overview of five of them, all designed for very specific reasons, then reoriented for the fight against the virus. After all, why reinvent the wheel?
Digital twins, from factories to labs
Until the beginning of 2020, digital twins were mostly the great heroes of Industry 4.0. Thanks to them, the industrial world is now able to create virtual twins pervasively, it seems for almost every system — to anticipate breakdowns, to pre-test future deployments, or to simulate different scenarios before having to deploy them in situ on physical equipment. In the healthcare world of now, the twins are working twice as hard in hospitals and laboratories, almost since the beginning of the pandemic.
Thanks to them, we are now able to create digital twin representations of a patient, to simulate the production process of a vaccine and the reaction of the human body, thus saving precious time in the race against the virus (and aiding scientific research and expensive lab time). Outside the healthcare environment, digital twins have also enabled companies to manage their businesses remotely and simulate the flow of people in their offices according to different scenarios (telecommuting, hourly rotation, etc.).
Speech recognition AI, from language analysis to disease analysis
Anyone who has ever dealt with a speech recognition device knows this: whether you want to dictate a text, translate it, or interact with voice assistant software, you have to speak clearly to be understood! At least, that was the case until the coronavirus arrived. Since then, many speech recognition specialists have been inviting people to record their coughs on their microphones. The idea is to provide a sound sample of their cough to detect possible voice deterioration that occurs when lung fluids are affected by the disease. A ‘Cough Bank’ (repository or recorded sounds) will have Artificial Intelligence applied to help identify small changes in sounds, unable to be recognized by the human ear. Among the existing solutions, the Covitwo solution developed by the startup Rcup seeks to eventually design a terminal that guides individuals through a care pathway according to their cough.
Ultra-wideband, from communication to distancing
Less known by the general public than Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or RFID, ultra-wideband (UWB) is a radio technology that is widely present by connected devices, allowing for very precise localization (spatial awareness) of objects. In the Apple iPhone 11, for example, the standard allowed users to send files by AirDrop with unprecedented precision. In the professional world, the technology enables indoor geolocation with potential accuracy of a few centimeters. As part of the fight against COVID-19, we have seen a slight change in strategy – UWB less for connecting individuals than for keeping them apart while respecting the rules of social distancing. The KYD (Keep Your Distance) social distancing badges designed by the French startup Zozio is a good example.
Bacteria, from super-beverages to super-masks
Usually used to produce cellulose — or kombucha — Acetobacter xylinum bacteria now makes it possible to create a film as filtering as N95 particle protection masks. Fighting the virus with a bacterium is the idea of two American designers from Sum Studio. Their prototype bio-mask — called the Xylinum Mask — is still at the research stage, just waiting for tests to prove its effectiveness.
Ozone, from therapy to disinfection
As a powerful disinfectant, ozone has been used for years in wastewater treatment. It is also a healthy and odorless alternative to chlorine in the disinfection of drinking water. It is, therefore, no coincidence that more and more hospitals are inviting it into their laundries, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. In the form of a gas, ozone neutralizes the virus when it circulates or is suspended in the air. And for the general public? Thanks to the Italian studio Carlo Ratti Associati, there is also a prototype of a portable dressing room — called Pura Case — which claims to eliminate viruses and bacteria from clothes, sanitizing them in one hour. The battery-powered device sucks in a little outside air, some oxygen molecules are then used to create ozone, which is already used as an antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral agent in wound treatment.
These are just a few of many great examples. All helping to remind us that sometimes, old is gold!