Tech-ing on Covid-19: Govt must extensively use tech solutions to fight coronavirus

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Published: March 26, 2020 5:05:32 AM

The startups’ efforts now need concerted government support, so that an array of tech solutions can be rolled out, some of which will help limit corona spread directly by minimising human contact with the infected.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had recently tweeted a video of another Asimov robot supplying sanitisers and enlightening visitors in a company on SARS CoV-2.Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had recently tweeted a video of another Asimov robot supplying sanitisers and enlightening visitors in a company on SARS CoV-2.

One of the first response of the Indian startup community to the coronavirus crisis was organising an online hackathon for developers to explore how technology could be put to use. Since then, Indian startups have launched a number of apps to help contain the spread of SARS CoV-2, and curb misinformation. While the government, too, has stepped up with its own offerings—within hours of the PM announcing, last Thursday, a Janata curfew, MeiTY and MoHFW were ready with a chatbot platform, developed with Haptik for WhatsApp users, that answers queries on coronavirus and discusses the government’s efforts to tackle it—the tech-solutions that startups are coming up with will synergise efforts. Students from Sona College of Technology, Salem, and Vee Technologies, Bengaluru, have announced the rollout of two apps, “Corona Scan” and “Corona-Support”, that let people voluntarily report themselves and aid health authorities in conducting contact tracing. Bajaj Allianz also released a ‘Social Trackback’ feature in its Caringly Yours app, where individuals can keep a digital diary of their interactions during the day. The company has said that data shall be private, and only users can share access. Founders Against COVID, a collaboration of startup founders, has been working an app called Quarantine, which will facilitate live tracking of affected individuals. Most such initiatives are a replication of apps from Singapore and South Korea, but India’s efforts have also gone beyond software patches.

Economic Times reports that Asimov Robotics has developed a robot prototype called KARMIbot to serve food and medication to patients in isolation wards. This robot can be controlled remotely, and can also run autonomously. It has video streaming and conferencing features, and hosts a detachable container with self-disinfection ability. As the robot also hosts a self-charging feature, it hardly requires any human intervention. This is not Asimov’s first initiative. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had recently tweeted a video of another Asimov robot supplying sanitisers and enlightening visitors in a company on SARS CoV-2. Another startup, Staqu, claims that its thermal camera can screen crowds’ body temperature, with a range of up to 100m. Niramai, a health-tech startup working on breast cancer screening using thermalytix, is also testing thermal scanners for mass detection.

The startups’ efforts now need concerted government support, so that an array of tech solutions can be rolled out, some of which will help limit corona spread directly by minimising human contact with the infected. But, barring Kerala and Karnataka, no state seems to be collaborating to any great extent with startups for Covid-19 management. Kerala is working with QKopy to spread information on the virus and track cases while Karnataka has enlisted startups to aid the struggling public health setup. At the central level, despite the Startup India scheme, the government’s actions have not signalled enthused support. The angel tax issue has still not been dealt with, and recent budget action has limited the benefits to select startups. Perhaps, that is also the reason why startup growth has been decelerating—as against 6,679 new startup registrations in 2015, India only registered 1,300 last year. India needs all hands on deck to fight Covid-19, and technological solutions, delivered by startups and established tech firms, can’t be pushed aside.

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