stories from around the web about how tech combats corona pandemic & helps us manage quarantine life
Photo Credit, https://nextstrain.org/ncov
WHO has launched a dedicated messaging services in Arabic, English, French and Spanish with partners WhatsApp and Facebook to keep people safe from coronavirus. This easy-to-use messaging service has the potential to reach 2 billion people and enables WHO to get information directly into the hands of the people that need it.
A market outside of Washington, D.C is experimenting with using robots to deliver groceries amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Broad Branch Market, in Chevy Chase, said service remains a top priority. "It's a big responsibility, we feel like we need to be here," owner Tracy Stannard, told WJLA. For three days, Stannard has been using four 45-pound robots to deliver goods from her market to neighbors within a mile of her store. The delivery service is free, as part of a beta test with the company Starship, and a modern twist to the store that has been in the community for a century.
Abbott Laboratories is unveiling a coronavirus test that can tell if someone is infected in as little as five minutes, and is so small and portable it can be used in almost any health-care setting. The medical-device maker plans to supply 50,000 tests a day starting April 1, said John Frels, vice president of research and development at Abbott Diagnostics.
The deus ex machina of an overwhelming public health crisis has changed things. The pandemic may have the effect of a justifiable war waged by an embattled president with low popularity. While Big Tech’s misdeeds are still apparent, their actual deeds now matter more to us. We’re using Facebook to comfort ourselves while physically bunkered and social distancing. Google is being conscripted as the potential hub of one of our greatest needs—Covid-19 testing. Our personal supply chain—literally the only way many of us are getting food and vital supplies—is Amazon. Who knew the techlash was susceptible to a virus?
nfineon engineers developed a 3D printed lung ventilator to help address the shortage of ventilators due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The German federal government held a hackathon called #WirvsVirus (“We against the virus”) where 42,000 people met to find solutions to challenges from the coronavirus. Infineon engineers, led by Mahmoud Ismail who has a doctorate in lung mechanics, submitted a 3D print design and a design for the electronics and algorithms to develop and open-source lung ventilator. The OpenVent team used the concept of a bag valve mask to make a ventilator with stepper motors, 3D printed components, motor drivers, sensors and Arduino compatible software. The team also used electronics and sensor technologies from Infineon.
Phones that have the app installed exchange short-distance Bluetooth signals when their users are near one another. Records of those encounters, including the duration, are stored in their respective phones for 21 days, according to the app’s frequently asked questions section. It added that location data is not collected. If a user is diagnosed with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, they could allow Singapore’s health ministry to access their app data to identify people who had close contact with the infected individual.
A new Israeli app can instantly tell users if they have crossed paths with someone known to have been infected with the coronavirus. On Sunday, the country’s health ministry unveiled the app, called “The Shield” (“HaMagen”, in Hebrew.) The app takes location data from the user’s phone and compares it with the information in Health Ministry servers regarding the location histories of confirmed cases during the 14 days before their diagnosis.
At this moment, there are thousands of intelligent, diligent, well-meaning engineers trying to help the design of open source ventilators to address a possibly imminent life-threatening shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This wealth of creative technical energy is currently disorganized, scattered, and unfocused. Rather than being a tremendous force for saving lives that it may become, energy and time is currently being wasted on oversimplifications of the problem and the belief that the projects are closer to deployable than they really are. We have been working on this full-time only for the last eight days. With great humility, we would like to assert a few things.
IA coalition of grassroots UK tech initiatives has come together to co-ordinate the key groups of tech industry people supporting the UK’s response to the Coronavirus. COVID19 Tech Response (CTR) aims to co-ordinate the supply of available tech talent; work on the problems that need solving and the matching of the two. So far, they have brought over 400 tech volunteers together, mostly from the UK, some of whom have been providing volunteer support to local Covid Mutual Aid groups which have sprung up across the country.
Amazon.com is teaming up with Lyft on recruiting the ride-hailing company’s drivers to deliver packages and groceries as the pandemic keeps people indoors. In an email to Lyft drivers Friday, the company referred them to work opportunities at Amazon as grocery shoppers, warehouse workers or delivery people “as a way to earn additional income right now.” The message from Lyft, which came in response to plummeting demand for rides and economic hardships facing drivers, also indicated that drivers could qualify for compensation in the U.S. stimulus bill. While Amazon and Lyft have competed for workers in the past, the surge in grocery and package deliveries has reset that dynamic.
Workers at grocery delivery service Instacart plan a strike on Monday to force the company to better protect them against the coronavirus outbreak, setting the stage for a mass disruption of customer orders at a time of soaring growth. “We’re really trying to light a fire under Instacart’s feet,” said Vanessa Bain, a member of the activist committee organizing the strike. “Our intention is not to bring Instacart’s operations to a grinding halt, but if that’s what it takes to get what we need, then we’ll keep elevating.” The group, which has access to a network of 15,000 Instacart workers, said they’ve repeatedly asked for Instacart to provide them with personal safety gear, $5 hazard pay for each order, and access to sick pay for at-risk workers and those who have coronavirus symptoms. The workers plan to strike until the company, which they say has largely ignored them, meets their demands.
Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island plan to strike on Monday to call attention to the lack of protections for employees who continue to come to work amid the coronavirus outbreak. Nearly 100 workers at the facility, known as JFK8, plan to participate in the work stoppage. The employees will walk out Monday morning and “cease all operations” until their demands are heard by site leadership, said Chris Smalls, a management assistant at JFK8 and a lead organizer of the strike. Smalls and other associates said they’ve grown increasingly concerned about coming into work after an employee tested positive for the virus there last week. An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC it was supporting the individual who is in quarantine and asked anyone who was in contact with the individual to stay home with pay for two weeks. The facility has remained open.
Facebook and Google banned sales and advertising of medical face masks amid coronavirus scams and shortages. But the content didn’t go away. Facebook and Google are allowing sellers and advertisers to hawk medical face masks on their platforms weeks after the tech giants promised to crack down on the practice, according to a review by the Tech Transparency Project (TTP). The findings cast doubt on the companies’ promises to combat exploitation of the widening coronavirus pandemic. TTP identified more than 130 Facebook Pages offering medical face masks, including some labelled as N95 respirators, which are desperately needed in hospitals. All of the pages were easily located in Facebook searches for terms like “corona mask,” “N95,” and “surgical mask.” The review found similar examples on Facebook-owned Instagram as well as face mask ads served by Google on a variety of websites.
Mobile carriers are sharing data with the health authorities in Italy, Germany and Austria, helping to fight coronavirus by monitoring whether people are complying with curbs on movement while at the same time respecting Europe’s privacy laws. The data, which are anonymous and aggregated, make it possible to map concentrations and movements of customers in ‘hot zones’ where COVID-19 has taken hold. That is less invasive than the approach taken by countries like China, Taiwan and South Korea, which use smartphone location readings to trace the contacts of individuals who have tested positive or to enforce quarantine orders.
The White House urged tech companies Wednesday to fight coronavirus disinformation and other harmful content on their platforms, while also using their technical know-how to assist the government with its own response to the expanding outbreak. The Trump administration is enlisting the help of companies including Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, IBM and Twitter as the federal government struggles to contain the virus, which has reached more than 1,000 confirmed cases across the U.S. and has forced the cancellations of airline flights, college classes, concerts and campaign rallies.
A spokesman for Dyson confirmed to Forbes that an initial order of 10,000 units from the U.K. government has been placed, and work will begin immediately at the historic airforce base RAF Hullavington. Dyson confirmed in a letter to staff seen by Forbes, “Since I received a call from Boris Johnson ten days ago, we have refocused resources at Dyson, and worked with TTP, The Technology Partnership, to design and build an entirely new ventilator, The CoVent.”
Data collected via the NHS's 111 telephone service is to be mixed with other sources to help predict where ventilators, hospital beds, and medical staff will be most in need. The goal is to help health chiefs model the consequences of moving resources to best tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Three US tech firms are aiding the effort - Amazon, Microsoft and Palantir - as well as London-based Faculty AI.
With ventilators running low, a desperate hospital in the northern part of the country is trying something new: modified scuba masks. Doctors at the Maggiore Hospital in Parma are using a 3D printer to modify the masks so they connect to oxygen. It's a quick fix that Dr. Franceso Minardi likens to wartime triage.
An initial prototype was built out of acrylic, measuring 11.25 x 6.7 x 8 inches (285 x 170 x 200 mm) and weighing 9 lbs (4.1 kg). It is driven by an electric motor powered by a 14.8 VDC battery and features an adjustable tidal volume up to a maximum of 750 ml. Tidal volume and number of breaths per minute are set via user-friendly input knobs. The prototype also features an assist-control mode and an alarm to indicate overpressurization of the system. Future iterations of the device will include a controllable inspiration to expiration time ratio, a pressure relief valve, PEEP capabilities and an LCD screen. With a prototyping cost of only $420, the bulk-manufacturing price for the ventilator is estimated to be less than $200. Through this prototype, the strategy of cam-actuated BVM compression is proven to be a viable option to achieve low-cost, low-power portable ventilator technology that provides essential ventilator features at a fraction of the cost of existing technology.
In response to health authorities emphasizing the importance of social distancing, we’ve seen usage increases in services that support these scenarios—including Microsoft Teams, Windows Virtual Desktop, and Power BI. We have seen a 775 percent increase of our cloud services in regions that have enforced social distancing or shelter in place orders. We have seen a very significant spike in Teams usage, and now have more than 44 million daily users. Those users generated over 900 million meeting and calling minutes on Teams daily in a single week. You can read more about Teams data here. Windows Virtual Desktop usage has grown more than 3x.Government use of public Power BI to share COVID-19 dashboards with citizens has surged by 42 percent in a week.
The social network will spend $100 million on grants to support over 30,000 small businesses in 30 countries, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg announced Tuesday. The funds will be paid out in a combination of cash and advertising credits to businesses that need help covering operational expenses and in paying rent or their employees, Business Insider's Dominic Reuter reported.
As the coronavirus outbreak continues to worsen around the world, it’s taking a devastating toll on lives and communities. To help address some of these challenges, today we’re announcing a new $800+ million commitment to support small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), health organizations and governments, and health workers on the frontline of this global pandemic.
To ensure that only the right information is uploaded, especially for Wikipedia since it follows an open editing model that’s been designed to prevent bias, the platform has partnered with Swastha. Swastha is a branch of a much larger Wikipedia group, WikiProject Medicine, that includes doctors and experts from around the world. WikiProject Medicine has so far produced more than 35,000 articles in different languages that are monitored by more than 150 editors. This partnership is to help Wikipedia made critical coronavirus-related health information freely accessible to all Indians. “Verifying what is a coronavirus fact versus fiction is a huge job, and we are calling on local universities to help as we increase efforts to translate and review local Indic content about the pandemic,” said Abhishek Suryawanshi who’s a part of the newly-formed Wikipedia group.
When you watch YouTube videos about the novel coronavirus, a banner will appear underneath the player that links to the WHO's website. There, you can find further information on the disease, which measures you can take, and the latest updates. Additionally, the platform allows YouTube channels to start fundraisers which you can easily support via a donate button that taps into your Google Pay account. On the YouTube homepage and in the subscriptions tab, featured banners link to the WHO, and a selection of video news inform you about the virus.
Apple today released a new screening tool and set of resources to help people stay informed and take the proper steps to protect their health during the spread of COVID-19, based on the latest CDC guidance. The new COVID-19 website, and COVID-19 app available on the App Store, were created in partnership with the CDC,1 the White House Coronavirus Task Force and FEMA to make it easy for people across the country to get trusted information and guidance at a time when the US is feeling the heavy burden of COVID-19.The COVID-19 app and website allow users to answer a series of questions around risk factors, recent exposure and symptoms for themselves or a loved one. In turn, they will receive CDC recommendations on next steps, including guidance on social distancing and self-isolating, how to closely monitor symptoms, whether or not a test is recommended at this time, and when to contact a medical provider. This new screening tool is designed to be a resource for individuals and does not replace instructions from healthcare providers or guidance from state and local health authorities.
US government officials are using cellphone location data from the mobile ad industry —not data from the carriers themselves— to track Americans’ movements during the coronavirus outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with state and local governments have received cell phone data about people in areas of “geographic interest,” the WSJ reports. The goal is to create a government portal with geolocation information from some 500 cities across the country, to help ascertain how well people are complying with stay-at-home orders, according to the WSJ. One example of how the anonymized data was reportedly used: Researchers discovered large numbers of people were gathering in a New York City park, and notified local authorities. The use of even anonymized data raises myriad privacy concerns, with privacy advocates urging limits on how such data can be used and prevent its use for other purposes, the WSJ reported.
Should Germany concentrate more energy on digital surveillance in the fight against the new coronavirus? These days that issue is being hotly debated in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, where the federal commissioner for data protection, Ulrich Kelber of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), directly contradicted Health Minister Jens Spahn of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Speaking with the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Spahn pointed to South Korea, saying, "We have seen how South Korea, a democratic country, was able to fight the virus using cellphone data." He said that cellphone data helped authorities there to quickly track down people who had come into contact with infected individuals and thus pinpoint potential spreaders. Those affected were requested to enter quarantine.
China, South Korea, Israel, Italy and others are using phone location software, along with CCTV video and credit card records, among other tools, to do that. Governments are understandably eager to use every weapon at their disposal in this fight and phone tracking has already proven effective in some places - such as China. But these measures come with all kinds of questions on finding the right balance between the need for public safety and the individual's right to privacy. Another question worth asking: How long do the authorities intend to keep digging into our phones?
Now it’s been 16 days since the Slack launched, and the group’s at more than 13,000 users with more than 3,000 officially registered volunteers. People come from the US but also countries like India, Poland, Portugal, and Brazil. There are about 35 different projects underway, including some to manufacture protective face shields and design make-do ventilators. Meanwhile, new contributors — students, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and even a small-town mayor from Texas — continue to join the cause.
Academic science labs around the U.S. are rapidly gearing up to run coronavirus tests for patients in need. They're drawing resources from across campus: technology, chemicals and a formidable workforce — graduate students. "Normally, when people say they need someone in an emergency, it's not a science grad student," says Katie Cabral, a bioengineering Ph.D. student at the University of California, San Francisco. "But in this case, my particular qualifications are exactly what is needed." Cabral is volunteering at a new testing center organized by UCSF and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, a biomedical research collaborative in San Francisco. Facilities normally dedicated to cutting-edge research are being switched over to coronavirus testing and they put out a call for student help. "I was at home, just sort of stressing about the world," she says. "Being able to come in and do something tangible to work towards this goal of increasing testing, it just felt really important."
Alan Puccinelli is the inspiration behind a swirl of activity at Hacker Lab in Rocklin. About a week ago, Alan started 3D printing parts for hospital-grade face shields using an open-source, validated design he discovered online. It's the type of shield that's in high demand right now during the COVID-19 outbreak. Flash forward to Saturday, and Operation Shields Up! is up and running. Puccinelli is accepting no-contact drop-offs and shipments of 3D printed parts from makers across the country. He's also mobilized a team of nearly two dozen other local makers to help him construct the shields.
University of North Carolina Charlotte faculty members are stepping up to healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak. They are using 3D-printers from home to make protective shields. So far, they have made 250 of them. The effort is part of the Million Mask Challenge. As production continues, faculty members are working on creating clear instructions on the printing process so students can also make masks from home.
A team from the University of South Florida Health has helped come up with a solution to address this emergency shortage during the global pandemic. Along with Northwell Health out of New York and 3D printing company Formlabs, USF Health announced Saturday that they have successfully produced and tested 3D printed nasal swabs. “We can’t get an accurate number of how many patients actually have this virus in the state of Florida until we have enough testing kits,” Dr. Summer Decker from USF Health Department of Radiology told 8 On Your Side via FaceTime.
It has been a rough few weeks as we’ve seen the COVID-19 virus take a toll on our livelihoods, our families and the world economy. People are losing their lives, and businesses are suffering in the shadow of revenue losses and a volatile stock market. The virus has had a material impact on O’Reilly’s in-person Events division as well. We previously made the painful decision to cancel our Strata California and Strata London events. Today, we’re sharing the news that we’ve made the very difficult decision to cancel all future O’Reilly in-person conferences and close down this portion of our business. Without understanding when this global health emergency may come to an end, we can’t plan for or execute on a business that will be forever changed as a result of this crisis. With large technology vendors moving their events completely on-line, we believe the stage is set for a new normal moving forward when it comes to in-person events.
Berlin-based SaaS provider Morressier is helping research societies navigate these difficult times by providing an online platform to boost the dissemination and discoverability of research that would have been shared at physical events. It recently helped the American Chemical Society pull off a quick turn around after its Spring meeting was cancelled due to the current pandemic. Around 15,000 scientists were set to share the newest chemistry research at the meeting, including findings that could accelerate COVID-19 research. Morressier launched the SciMeetings platform to gather posters from would-be attendees and disseminate them in an open-access format to the entire scholarly community, fostering scientific progress when it is needed most. Cofounder and managing director Sami Benchekroun says: “This enables scholarship to keep advancing forward at a time when in-person interaction is limited. Right now, it is essential that research is widely accessible as without it there will be no breakthroughs in the search for a cure for COVID-19, or whatever challenge next faces humanity.”
Verizon will provide free internet access to all students who need it in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the company announced today. This could help as many as 100,000 students continue to learn while schools are closed. Reliable internet access is critical during this pandemic, but Verizon (Engadget's parent company) is a little late to step up. Spectrum is offering free internet installation and service to students and their families. Comcast is making its Internet Essentials program free for new, qualifying customers for 60 days, and it is boosting broadband speeds for existing Internet Essentials customers. AT&T has removed data usage caps.
Rithwik Pattikonda and Darshan Bhatta, a sophomore and freshman studying computer science, recently launched InStok.org, a website designed to check inventories of big stores like Target and CVS and tell users where they can find the items they need. Pattikonda said he got the idea when he saw his parents having a difficult time finding essentials. “Initially, I saw my parents were really struggling to find certain types of grocery items,” he said. “And when I saw the news, I noticed the panic was a lot more widespread.” Pattikonda and Bhatta spent nearly a week coding the site from scratch. It works by checking the online inventories of major chain stores including Target, CVS and Walgreens, and aggregating them in one place. Users can type in their ZIP code, the item they want, and see which stores have it in stock. You can even compare prices and ask the site to send you alerts when items are available. The site is free to use, and does not require signing up for an account.