Tech Talk: A Pandemic Edition

Design by: Hardhik Pinjala

2020 has been a weird year so far. Elon Musk has assigned a garbage value to the variable ‘sons_name’, Sonu Sood (of all people) is relevant again, the Pentagon confirmed that UFOs do exist, and some people think that COVID is just another piece of commie propaganda that starts with a sickle and ends with everyone in a pickle. However, these are hard, pressing times. The economic downfall due to the pandemic would greatly affect the impoverished.

The resources required to alleviate such a catastrophe would be of gargantuan proportions, and that’s without mentioning the amount of manpower required as well. But we must try; for trying is the most one could hope for in this unprecedented situation.

Policymakers and politicians may take decisions for better or for worse, but we are entrusted with the responsibility of creating sustainable, effective and deployable technologies to confront these disasters. It would be devilishly preachy of me to start with the phrase ‘it is our solemn duty to contribute’ while I’m at home trying to kill time between lunch and dinner. Still, for the sake of society, we must contribute to the best of our abilities.

And did insti contribute! While most of us were home, daydreaming about watching the evergreen surroundings as we swished past at breakneck speeds on a rattling bicycle with compromised brakes, some intelligent innovators were developing devices to help the hapless helm through this health hardship. Here are a couple of those products:

Remote patient monitoring

IIT Madras’ Healthcare Technology Innovation Centre (HTIC) and Helyxon, a healthcare startup, have jointly developed a remote patient monitoring device that monitors vital body functions – temperature, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate and heart rate accurately. The device is portable, wireless and can be put on the finger of a patient. The data collected is sent to a monitoring program (which can also be a smartphone). The device cost ranges from 2,500 to 10,000 rupees based on its configuration and parameters and has reached over 2,000 patients in public and private hospitals.

This remote monitoring solution minimises close contact between COVID-19 patients and healthcare workers, decreasing the probability of a healthcare worker catching the virus.

The Helyxon designed remote patient monitoring device


Wristband COVID-19 symptom detector

Muse Wearables, an IITM incubated startup will be launching a wristband that detects COVID-19 symptoms, and has raised 22 crore rupees for the same. This tracker has sensors for body temperature, blood oxygen saturation and heart rate. It continuously monitors these parameters to indicate if the person might be displaying COVID-19 symptoms. Early diagnosis ensures that the person receives the necessary healthcare in time and limits the spread of the virus. The aforementioned data is stored in a mobile application and on a remote server. The device is priced at around 3,500 rupees.

The virus may not have a high fatality rate, but it does have a high infection rate; evident from the fact that it took less than six months to lock most countries down. This dangerous ability may be subverted if one were to quarantine themselves as soon as they start displaying its symptoms.

Muse Wearables was started in 2016 in the IITM Incubation Cell. Their products aim to redefine what a smartwatch could do; from music and calls to even handling payments. And with their classic display, all this can be done while looking like James Bond sitting silently at a bar, vodka martini in hand.

Portable hospital units

Modulus Housing, a startup supported by IITM, has developed a portable hospital unit named ‘MediCab’. They aim to offer a novel approach to detect, screen, isolate and treat COVID-19 patients in places where space or financial constraints don’t allow dedicated COVID centres. They aim to provide this service to local communities that may not have adequate healthcare infrastructure.

The portable microstructure has four zones- a doctors room, an isolation room, a medical ward and a twin-bed ICU. It is equipped with 15 beds and built-in bathrooms, air-conditioning and lights, and is resistant to fire, water and termite damage. Its collapsible cabins allow six such units to be transported in a truck.

Two IITM alumni launched Modulus Housing in 2018 through the IITM Incubation Cell. It aims to revolutionise housing using a modular approach. The idea was conceived following the devastating 2015 Chennai floods. The availability of low-cost, portable housing would significantly improve living conditions in temporary camps made to accommodate the displaced. It started as an academic project but quickly gained traction by winning multiple awards in competitions held by Azim Premji University and NIT Trichy.

And now, let’s look at some student-led projects. Despite the uncertainty of how innovation would flourish while being confined to their homes or how blurry the bigger picture would seem through the lens of a webcam, these innovators kept at their work.

Autonomous symptom-analysing bot

The CVI club in CFI have planned to develop an autonomous bot powered by computer vision and deep learning to detect COVID-19 symptoms. This bot will be able to provide a preliminary diagnosis of a patient through patient query responses without any physical contact with medical professionals. After the diagnosis, the bot will use computer vision to identify the patient and update the pre-existing database or create a new record if the patient is unregistered. Depending on the result of the diagnosis, the bot may then connect to a doctor virtually, refer them to testing centres or provide them with necessary treatments inside the hospital. The bot will be equipped with an IR thermometer to accurately measure body temperature and a high definition camera for doctor video calls.

It is a demanding task for hospital staff to ensure every patient that needs non-COVID related treatment is not infected with the virus. This bot aims to streamline this process and protect healthcare workers from being exposed to the virus.

The Autonomous symptom analysis bot designed by the CVI club at CFI

The bot will be easy to deploy and inexpensive to produce, and it can easily be scaled up. The software would be influenced by the numerous technological advancements in the field of computer vision.

Communication Platform for Insti

The Product Design Team in CFI are attempting to develop an alternative to Moodle, Google Classroom and Acadly to accelerate online learning. They aim to tackle the shortcomings of these platforms as well as include some innovative additions to incentivise online learning. This platform will make it easier for professors to upload content, summaries and insights of every topic covered in class. Some features include- a common chat application, an anti-plagiarism tool to ensure copying of assignments doesn’t take place, seamless communication between students of different sections, better UI, and course reviews for future students interested in the course. Oh, and this platform is being specially curated for Insti at the moment (though we may see it expand in the future).

The Product Design team currently consists of product designers and front-end and back-end web developers who are enthusiastic about technology and business alike. “Our team is extremely diverse, owing to the fact that all of us are either coders or designers”, says Gaurav from the Product Design Team.

It is heartening to see all this effort from insti during this pandemic. Hopefully, once everything blows over, we can return to our hostels and resume defending ourselves from the guerrilla warfare techniques of the monkeys.


Edited by: Amrita Mahesh

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