Covid-19 in India: Hacking coronavirus with technology

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Published: April 9, 2020 6:30:14 AM

Indeed, states must also engage with such solution-providers—Tamil Nadu has hired Garuda, a Chennai-based start-up, for sanitisation of hospitals etc through drones.

India has conducted many hackathons before, but these have been marked by limited adaptability of the solutions developed. India has conducted many hackathons before, but these have been marked by limited adaptability of the solutions developed.

Technology will undoubtedly be crucial in the fight against Covid-19. India, thus, needs to quickly identify workable solutions from among those proposed by tech companies, and aspiring techpreneurs. Given hackathons are a ready tool to do this, the government did well to organise a two-day hackathon on April 3-5. An estimated 2,000 teams participated in this. The winning teams include Big Bang Boom, which designed a remotely operable ventilator system built from consumer durable components. The team aims to create an inexpensive DIY kit that could be set up in primary healthcare centres (PHCs) across the country with little oversight.

Another startup, Team 132, had developed a UV disinfectant robot that can autonomously disinfect surfaces using UV light. A hardware company, Vincence, showcased a Rs 27,000 device to monitor oxygen levels and pulse rate. Another team, 118, had developed a device that could be linked to a computer to analyse shortness of breath, a symptom of Covid-19 disease. App developers also had some interesting solutions. R-TNT’s test management centre handles supply-chain functions for testing facilities, from consumer requests to placing orders for testing kits. Researchers from Microsoft, Brown, and Stanford developed a labelling app, wherein the unemployed can earn money assigning labels for products to be categorised online. Another team developed an AI platform that assess patients’ medical needs, and connects them to doctors and radiologists.

India has conducted many hackathons before, but these have been marked by limited adaptability of the solutions developed. Some ideas have remained on paper, partly because government agencies have not been able to develop further on the skeletal solutions provided by developers—skeletal, because it is not always possible for the government to reveal the critical information necessary for any technology-based solution to achieve full functionality in the informal talent engagement of a hackathon. However, these are not insurmountable hurdles.

The government needs to keep Estonia’s example in mind—the country’s March 13-15 hackathon saw solutions like Koroonakaart.ee, a map displaying information about the spread of the virus, SUVE, a chatbot answering queries related to the disease, and Vaab.ee, which will help connect volunteers with a medical background to the country’s healthcare response teams. The winners included Zelos, which will connect at-risk people, like the elderly living alone, with volunteers who can help them by running errands for them while maintaining social distancing. The Estonian government, apart from giving cash rewards to the winners, has been on the front foot on committing and generating support to these tech-solutions. More so, since the disease’s exponential growth curve allows only a short window in which to act.

Indeed, states must also engage with such solution-providers—Tamil Nadu has hired Garuda, a Chennai-based start-up, for sanitisation of hospitals etc through drones. While Odisha and Uttar Pradesh have evinced interest in its services, states need to keep their ear to the ground on tech-based solutions to fight Covid-19.

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