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Robots help fight COVID-19

Inside Telecom Staff

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Robots are one group of workers on the frontline that have managed well though the pandemic. They are now recognised as an extremely valuable technology in the attempt to keep COVID-19 under control and look after those infected with the virus. These include things like the decontamination of hospitals and public spaces or delivering goods and services to patients.

The World Economic Forum reckons Covid-19 has been a robotic game changer and has released an article which explores the many duties robots are now being used for in the current circumstances: they can take patient temperatures and measure patient blood pressure and oxygen saturation. They are able to travel around a hospital and zap the virus with ultraviolet light. They may be sent out to deliver food to people quarantined in large hotels or, to send blood samples to labs.

They may also be enlisted in policing roles as drones to look out for stay-at-home violations, and they may automate the all-important public testing regimes that are supposed to support the track and trace phase in fighting the virus.

As a result of this, the forum thinks robots and their creators are carving out a valuable and permanent role for themselves as a preventative measure against future health crises.

Robotics were already on a growth spurt before the pandemic. ABI Research reports that last year,this area of technology won significant dollops of investment – a large amount of this was spent on acquisitions ($17.8 billion) with a further $29 billion in straight investment.

ABI states that most of this funding was steered towards autonomous passenger vehicles (APV’s), surgical robotics, and warehouse automation, with substantial growth for field robotics and drone services.

Despite not having commercialized their technologies, autonomous passenger vehicle developers like Waymo, Cruise, Zoox and company have continued to amass enormous funding from the corporate and VC world,” said Rian Whitton, senior analyst at ABI Research. “Surgical robots also received huge funding, and have already been commercialized to a considerable extent, with Intuitive Surgical selling over 5,000 Da Vinci robot systems to date.”

The WEF points out that each disaster is different, but the experience of using robots for the COVID-19 pandemic, the article authors say, “presents an opportunity to finally learn three lessons documented over the past 20 years. One important lesson is that during a disaster, robots do not replace people. They either perform tasks that a person could not do or do safely, or take on tasks that free up responders to handle the increased workload.

It mentions that the majority of robots being used to treat COVID-19 patients have not replaced health care professionals but are tele-operated, enabling health care workers to apply their expertise and compassion to sick and isolated patients remotely.

The authors say that given the ebb and flow of interest in robots for disaster relief, the best robots for a disaster are the robots, like those in these examples, which already exist in healthcare and public safety sectors.

The robots being designed now “to allow healthcare workers to remotely take blood samples and perform mouth swabs” probably won’t make a difference during this pandemic but might come into their own during the next one “if the momentum for robotics research continues.”

 

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MedTech

New COVID-19 test using T Cells

Mounir Jamil

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New COVID-19 test using T Cells

Indoor Biotechnologies, a global immunodiagnostics and biotechnology company based in Cardiff in the UK, was recently awarded funding from Innovate UK to develop a COVID-19 test using T cells. Successfully identifying individuals that have already been infected and have immunity would allow society to safely return to normal. In addition, reliable testing methods are needed since the symptoms of COVID-19 vary from person to person, with some not even displaying symptoms.

A potential method for a COVID-19 test is done by searching for specific antibodies in the blood samples. Several antibody tests are available, but doubts are present regarding the reliability of knowing if a person has gained immunity.

Long-term protection from viruses doesn’t only come from antibodies, but also from other cells of the immune system such as T cells, that play a vital role in eradicating and controlling viral infections. The latest test proposed by Indoor Biotechnologies focuses on the T cells rather than antibodies. If it is successful, the COVID-19 test or Simple Cellular Immunity Test (SCIT) will be able to identify the presence of T cells that cause COVID-19 from a single tube of blood and within 24 hours. 

This method has the ability to be more sensitive and more reliable at determining immunity than antibody testing. In order to validate this, it will be tested on individuals that already carried the virus and have developed antibodies. The COVID-19 test is also very valuable during vaccine development in order to help identify whether an adequate immune response has been created to protect people against coronavirus, and for testing how long the immune response lasts.

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MedTech

COVID-19 screening app that analyzes breathing, coughing and voice patterns

Adnan Kayyali

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COVID-19 screening app that analyzes breathing, coughing and voice patterns

Novoic, a startup founded by Oxford and Cambridge researchers, is developing a COVID-19 screening app that can screen people for COVID-19 by listening to the sound of their cough, aptly named “Coughvid”. The company that previously used speech analysis technology to detect cognitive impairments and diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, is now turning its attention to COVID-19.

The app works by recording a person’s coughing, breathing, voice patterns and analyzes them using a machine learning algorithm. Additionally, the app collects users’ demographic and medical history data and asks if a participant has been tested for COVID-19.

Currently the COVID-19 screening app has only a 70% accuracy rate, but the developers are far from done. To ‘teach’ the AI, Novoic will ask 1 million volunteers to “donate their cough” so the algorithm can be refined into a reliable screening process to distinguish between infected and non-infected coughs more decisively

“Different people’s voices of course sound different from each other, including when they’re healthy,” explains Emil Fristed, co-founder and CEO of Novoic. “To build accurate algorithms that work for everyone, we need a lot of data, which is why we are calling upon the public to step forward. If we capture enough cough sounds, we believe this could be the answer to cheap, accessible testing.

Due to the lack of respiratory sound data sets available to researchers, collecting these samples may help further diagnostic research beyond COVID-19. “The data will be stored on University servers and be used solely for research purposes,” said Cambridge University.

To assure those with fears of privacy and data security, the company said that user locations will only be known when actively using the app.

The researchers say however that the COVID-19 screening app is not a substitute for a medical exam. It is made to bolster the capabilities of mass testing in a non-intrusive, social distancing- friendly way.

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MedTech

COVAX Facility – 75 Countries, 1 Team

Mounir Jamil

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COVAX Facility - 75 Countries, 1 Team (1)

So far, about 75 countries and nations have expressed an increased interest in protecting their own populations and those of other nations by joining the COVAX Facility, a newly designed mechanism that ensures rapid, equitable, and fair access to COVID-19 vaccines all around the world.

The 75 countries will be financing the vaccines from their own public finance budgets, and will be partnering with up with 90 lower income countries that could benefit greatly from voluntary donations to Gavi’s COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC). Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, mentioned that COVAX Facility is the only truly global solution for the current pandemic.  

The goal of the COVAX Facility is to deliver two billion doses of effective, safe vaccines that have succeeded in regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification. The vaccines are set to be divided equally amongst participating countries, proportional to their populations. The COVAX Facility will also have extra doses for emergency and humanitarian use, including dealing with severe outbreaks before they spiral out of control. 

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