The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, first reported from Wuhan in China in late December, has quickly spread to become a global emergency.
The number of deaths due to Covid-19 in China has already exceeded the SARS outbreak in 2003. Against this backdrop, tech start-ups are working with government agencies, clinicians and academics to help contain the outbreak.
China is becoming the largest testing ground to demonstrate how emerging technologies can be harnessed to improve epidemic management and minimise the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Innovation Explorer database of GlobalData’s Disruptor Intelligence Centre has revealed crucial use cases of emerging technologies fighting coronavirus.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to identify disease outbreaks as well as forecast their nature of spread. Canadian start-up BlueDot used AI and machine learning to detect the coronavirus outbreak even before the Chinese authorities. Its AI algorithm analysed multiple sources such as news reports, social media platforms and government documents to predict the outbreak.
Autonomous sterilisation robots are helping hospitals to contain the infections in quarantined wards by easily moving into a quarantined zone to sterilise virus without human intervention. Chinese medical robot developer TMiRob deployed 10 disinfection robots across major hospitals in Wuhan to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Blockchain-powered services are helping hospitals to reduce the time spent on administrative work and allocate staff to the frontlines. China’s Xiang Hu Bao, owned by Ant Financial, is offering a blockchain platform to speed up the claims processing, reducing the need for face-to-face contact amidst the coronavirus outbreak.
Drones are gaining popularity as the fastest and safest means to transport supplies during disease outbreaks. Singapore’s AI start-up Antwork has launched the first ‘urban air transportation channel’ to deliver medical supplies between Xinchang County People’s Hospital and the county’s disease control center, both located in Zhejiang, one of the most severely coronavirus hit provinces.
Chatbots are becoming the real-time information providers of coronavirus outbreak. Japan’s start-up Bespoke has launched a chatbot ‘Bebot’ to offer latest and reliable updates to travelers on the coronavirus outbreak. Accessed through a mobile app, it can answer queries on coronavirus such as symptoms, preventative measures and treatment procedures.
On the other side, China’s tech leaders Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent have also joined the fight against the outbreak. Baidu has open-sourced its RNA prediction algorithm LinearFold to help researchers accelerate the time taken to predict the virus’s RNA secondary structure from 55 minutes to 27 seconds.
Meanwhile, Alibaba launched a new AI-based system to detect coronavirus infection via CT scans with an accuracy of up to 96 per cent in less than 20 seconds. Alibaba’s Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat released a feature to track individuals affected with the coronavirus using coloured QR codes.
With coronavirus pushing China’s health system into turmoil, the country is deploying tech solutions like never before to overcome its worst crisis in years. The ongoing epidemic has once again reiterated how important emerging technologies are in predicting and combating the spread of infectious diseases.
Venkata Naveen is a disruptive tech analyst at GlobalData