How tech companies are fighting COVID-19 with AI, data and ingenuity

Innovators are using droves of data, artificial intelligence, and clever ingenuity to fill gaps in the supply chain and fight the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19: Security risks are increasing as more people work from home
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As the coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, industries facing supply chain disruptions have been forced to adapt and improvise with surprising results; necessity is after all the mother of invention. A tech all-hands-on-deck moment has taken hold as companies large and small fight the coronavirus with swift innovation.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

"The tech industry is known for its ability to quickly scale and pivot its focus and support to adjust to the times, and this new challenge as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is no different," explained Erin Baudo Felter, vice president of Okta for Good, the access management company's social impact organization.

We are witnessing this focus pivot and scaling in real time. From password crackers running virus simulations to virus-slaying robots, there are innumerable clever ways companies are pitching in to help combat COVID-19. Below are some of the latest happenings across the sector intended to flatten the curve and more aptly manage a surge of patients pushing healthcare systems to their limits.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

Big names in tech answer the call

To assist governments and people, IBM has put its trusty artificial intelligence system, Watson, on the case as part of the Watson Assistant for Citizens campaign. Around the globe, people are overwhelming local governments and healthcare companies with phone calls about the coronavirus. To reduce these wait times, IBM is providing agencies and institutions with its natural language processing and AI capabilities packaged as a chatbot to automate the process and provide answers to many frequently asked questions.

Similarly, Apple's recently released COVID-19 app and website are designed to assist with screening measures and alleviate some of the stress on the healthcare system. Rather than phoning in with concerns, people can instead pose common questions to their digital assistants to access information from the Centers for Disease Control and select telehealth apps.

Aside from providing accurate information, Google is spearheading a $6.5 million campaign focused on combating coronavirus-related misinformation. On Thursday, Google announced plans to provide "dedicated training and crisis simulations for reporters covering COVID-19." As part of the fight against misinformation, Google also said it will make Google Trends data more accessible for healthcare organizations, local governments and reporters. The hope is that increased access to this search data will assist with following query trends and pinpoint "gaps" where quality online information is sparse.

SEE: Top 100+ tips for telecommuters and managers (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Improvising on the fly and on the high seas: Secure networks for makeshift clinics

Cities around the globe have quickly constructed a bevy of improvised testing facilities and temporary field hospitals to accommodate a surge of patients. To assist, Aruba Networks has donated an estimated $50 million worth of connectivity kits for these make-shift healthcare facilities. These kits are now available in two bundle offerings: a LAN wireless extension and an option for facilities operating with limited broadband connectivity. In one specific example, a large ferry boat (the GNV Splendid) was expeditiously transformed into a floating maritime hospital near Genoa, Italy. To ramp up operations and bring the hospital online, Aruba Networks and other partners constructed the necessary network infrastructure onboard including more than 2 million miles of cable.

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Door handles are among the most germ-infested objects in houses, hospitals, factories, and nursing homes. This hands-free door opener was designed by HP's Digital Manufacturing Network partner Materialise.

Image: HP

3D printing swiftly shoring up gaps in the supply chain

The 3D printing industry is particularly well-equipped to swiftly address the dearth of critical medical supplies, and several companies are offering unique supply chain solutions. Industrial 3D printing company Electro Optical Systems (EOS) has provided an extensive library of free downloads medical supplies as well as a LinkedIn Group for 3D printers looking to assist with production.

"Manufacturers with 3D printing capabilities can leverage this technology to bridge the gap between supply and demand in the near-term while we wait for pivots in business operations to occur and the supply chain to normalize," said Laura Gilmour, Global Medical Business Development manager for EOS.

HP is similarly mobilizing its network of partnered manufacturers around the globe to bolster PPE production. Unique 3D-printed products include face shield brackets and mask adjusters engineered to aid comfort for medical workers wearing these components for extended periods of time. Printed hands-free door openers enable healthcare professionals to open doors with a forearm or elbow to reduce contamination risks. All of these HP instructions are readily available and free to download online.

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3D printed parts for a mechanical bag valve mask (BVM) that is designed for use as a short-term emergency ventilation of COVID-19 patients. This simplified design enables a robust and less-complex device, facilitating its rapid production and assembly. 

Image: HP

Additionally, 3D printer manufacturer, MakerBot, is providing spare 3D printer parts and filament to assist with the production of face shields. MakerBot teams are also creating PPE equipment in New York City; the epicenter of the US coronavirus pandemic. The company has also created a Google Doc where medical workers and organizations facing shortages can request supplies.

SEE: 8 ways tech pros are helping healthcare providers cope with coronavirus (TechRepublic)

Bridging the technology and financial gap for small businesses, nonprofits

Access management company Okta has a new $10 million commitment, part of which will support its Nonprofit Technology Initiative and the rest will support communities. 

"It's never been more critical for nonprofits to have the ability to pivot to remote work, virtual service delivery, and effective online fundraising. And yet--there continues to be a widening and crippling tech gap in the nonprofit sector that has perhaps never been more clear," said Erin Baudo Felter, vice president of the Okta for Good initiative.

Okta is also providing funding to develop software focused on linking low-income communities with legal resources and services in the event individuals are unable to pay their monthly rent. Additionally, this same initiative will help link minority- and women-owned businesses with government resources and loans.

An early-detection testbed for wearable technology

Wellness wearable manufacturer Oura recently sponsored a study with the University of California, San Francisco, to monitor health metrics of medical workers. As part of the study, the company has donated more than 2,000 Oura Rings to collect body temperature, heart rate and other health data to identify contraction of the coronavirus early on. This information may help identify infected healthcare workers quickly and consequently reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others.

"If this research is successful, then not only will individuals have more information to plan with, but our whole society could be better able to make critical decisions during future public health crises," said Ben Smarr, Ph.D., an Oura sleep science adviser and an assistant professor of bioengineering and data science at UC San Diego.

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