Technology teams sprint to conquer COVID-19

The seemingly insurmountable odds presented by coronavirus has not dampened the enthusiasm of ad-hoc groups harnessing the business and technical talents of many companies and individuals. One such effort is Sprint Covid-19, a technology task force being led by the Innovation Department at Assuta Ashdod Hospital in Ashdod, Israel, together with Rafael Advanced Technology and Weizmann Institute of Science.

The open source effort aims to resolve key challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic, which include developing a non-human patient interaction mechanism for quarantined patients, personal protection for healthcare workers, alternative ventilation mechanisms, and a non-invasive test that can handle a large number of people at once.

“We have over 900 volunteers enrolled and at least a dozen companies currently participating,” said Marina Darlow, Operations Lead of Sprint Covid-19, in a telephone interview with FierceElectronics. “All our projects are open source; we make the data available to anyone.”

In a spirit of friendly competition, the Sprint COVID-19 has set up two to three teams for each challenge. Each team contains a core group of Builders (Product Manager, Engineers, Solution Architects), with a clinical advisory group advising each challenge. Volunteers with experience as engineers, product managers, clinicians, care managers, project managers are welcome to join existing teams or create new teams.

According to Darlow, quick response is one characteristic of the effort, noting that for one project, a team was assembled within a week. There’s a spirit of cooperation in the efforts. “We constantly have companies helping us with issues such as materials, technical support.”

While the COVID Sprint site is one way to inform people of the group’s goals and activities, Darlow said social networking and personal referrals have also been important. For her, just getting involved with trying to tackle the pandemic was enough of a reason to participate. “You’re under a shelter-in-place order and want to do something to fight a situation that is making you miserable.”

One company participating in the challenge is Luminati, an Israeli-based company that is trying to help develop a heuristic test that can be carried out on smartphones and smartwatches to identify asymptomatic, presymptomatic and mild cases which would otherwise go undetected.

Specifically, the Sprint COVID-19 effort involves using sensors that are available on smartphones to measure users’ blood oxygen levels, seen as a key first step in identifying the virus.

Luminati Networks, an operator in the data collection automation industry, played a role in tracking and identifying compatible smart devices, a task that requires collecting massive amounts of openly available data from across the worldwide web. In just under 24 hours, Luminati Networks processed a huge amount of data locating over 110 smartphone models and 165 models of smartwatches and smart bands, that can conduct this simple test.

“We showed the distribution of different smartphones globally that can sense oxygen,” said Or Lenchner, CEO of Luminati. Lenchner noted that many Samsung smartphones incorporate a sensor that can detect oxygen.

According to Lenchner, there are 72 million global subscribers that install apps that partner with the Luminati network, which expedites data collection.