Digital innovation: How tech is stepping up to fight Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic is a tragic affair, but there are positive developments emerging from the situation. As a technology PR agency, one of the most exciting trends to observe is the global tech sector pulling together to help combat the virus and reduce its impact on the world’s population through digital innovation. From market leaders such as Apple, Google and Tencent, to small start-up businesses, tech is stepping up to fight the Coronavirus with digital innovation in a variety of ways. Here are just three examples of how the tech sector is playing it’s part:
3D printing of essential medical equipment
A shortage of medical equipment to test individuals, treat patients, and protect medical professionals is a challenge across the globe, and one the 3D printing community is rising to. From printer manufacturers and motorsport businesses, to tech start-ups and even hobbyists, around 6,000 owners of 3D printers around the world are working with hospitals and medical centres to print essential equipment.
While a consortium in Spain has developed an entire 3D printed respirator, with a simplified design to assist assembly, most 3D printers are being used to produce smaller parts or components. Some are printing adaptors that can turn existing sleep breathing machines into emergency ventilators, while others are printing nose swabs to be used in testing kits or face shields for medical teams. 3D printing is a form of digital technology that allows parts to be produced as and when they are needed, enabling faster and more flexible supply chains.
Big data and AI working to find a cure
The scientific community is working together to find out more about Covid-19, sharing data and using advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to provide answers to pressing questions. When the outbreak first began, for instance, laboratories shared genomes of the virus in open access databases, which allowed high speed development of testing kits.
Companies across the world are now sharing their own insights into the virus in the hope digital innovation and emerging technology may help researchers to develop vaccines or treatments. Google’s DeepMind recently published the findings of its AlphaFold system, which used AI to predict the structure of proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. To effectively use the masses of available data to find cures or vaccines, researchers need vast processing capabilities, and digital businesses such as Tencent are opening up their supercomputing facilities to help researchers run processes much faster than they can with regular computers.
While some researchers are looking to develop new treatments or vaccines, AI is also being used to identify existing drugs that might be beneficial in treating Covid-19. BenevolentAI is using its knowledge graph to search for already approved medicines which might block the viral infection process, focussing particularly on drugs that reduce the ability of the virus to infect lung cells. By working together and sharing the insights their individual technologies produce, tech companies can provide the clues necessary to ultimately create vaccines and cures.
Tech companies partnering on contact tracing
Contract tracing is one of the methods being employed in various countries to slow and control the spread of Coronavirus. But it can be difficult for individuals to remember and identify everybody they were in contact with over a period of several days, especially if they weren’t displaying any symptoms at the time and so weren’t consciously trying not the pass the virus on.
To automate the process and make it more efficient, a number of countries are investing in contact tracing mobile apps which will notify a user if they’ve recently been in close proximity to someone diagnosed with Coronavirus. Matt Hancock recently announced the development of a UK contact tracing app by NHSX, the health service’s digital transformation arm, which may help to control the spread of the virus once restrictions are lifted.
To assist the development of contact tracing technology, tech giants Apple and Google are joining forces on a comprehensive Bluetooth solution. It includes operating system-level technology and application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using public health authority apps while still maintaining strong protections around user privacy.
These examples barely scratch the surface of the different ways digital technology is being used to combat Covid-19, but they do illustrate how the tech community is pulling together in extraordinary ways to further a common cause. The impact of the Coronavirus is clearly very serious, but its effects would be even more extreme without the efforts of technology providers to fight the disease and help the world return to a degree of normality.
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