Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE) graduates play a very important role in providing automated solutions such as disease surveillance, integrating sensor system in a smartphone for early detection of disease symptoms, sensor-based sanitizer dispensing system, etc. thereby, application of electronics, integration of sensors, wireless connectivity, and remote operability, etc. are the key requirements for this pandemic (COVID 19) equipment.
People with this specific knowledge have contributed, are contributing, and will continue contributing significantly in developing automatic technology in fighting against this kind of pandemic.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization confirmed the Coronavirus as a pandemic. And soon many countries have enforced lockdown measures to stop the spread of this deadly disease. According to a survey, conducted by IPC (Institute for Printed Circuits), electronics manufacturers anticipate at least a five-week product shipment delay from suppliers due to the coronavirus epidemic. With these difficulties also, the engineers (ECE) have geared up in R & D activities in fighting against this pandemic and acting as a backbone to all the support staff (Doctors, Health workers, Administration staffs like Ministers, Police, etc.).
Even in today’s highly medically advanced adept society, suppressing the virus has required extreme measures of isolation and social distancing. One of the most common ways of minimizing the spread of the disease in key public places has been to remotely record the temperature of people as they pass through designated zones. There are a number of different monitoring devices to record the temperature of the general public. Electronics engineers mostly prefer referring to use infrared waves to measure the temperature of the person/a group of people.
These are non-invasive, relatively inexpensive, and can be used from a distance. Here, the infrared waves are detected which are given off by the human body. The higher number of infrared waves will be emitted from the hotter body. The detectors then convert the concentration of infrared waves into electricity, with output as a temperature. The forehead is generally chosen as the scanning location for two reasons: (i) it is a large uncovered area of the skin and (ii) the temporal artery lies just below the skin which gives much more accurate reading. There are other devices that are more advanced in nature, like thermal imaging cameras, wearable temperature monitoring devices, drones/robots, etc. Essentially, all the devices on the frontline to measure the temperature of the person is to be without needing to be in direct contact with the person being scanned.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and deep learning methods are being used to accurately analyze the data to predict and monitor the spread of the disease across countries, the survival chance of patients and take the pressure off frontline radiologists. There are also many molecular diagnostic platforms in determining if a patient has been infected. In the communication part, today, satellite technology provides high-bandwidth, multi-media patient information to aid shared clinical decision-making and early diagnosis. Remote visual and telephone consultations help in many surgeries minimizing the spread of germs. The link allows two-way real-time consultation enabling seamless patient care.
Due to the contagious nature of COVID19, the use of satellite communication allows quarantined diagnosis without any risk of face-to-face contact. Robots to disinfect hospitals and autonomous drones to deliver medical supplies and meals are being assisted by satellite navigation. Here also, AI is being used to process large amounts of data to develop a vaccine. ECE also enables to use of imagery from Earth-observation satellites in creating population density maps to identify vulnerable population groups such as the young or elderly. It is capable of displaying the real-time cartography of disease locations and identify hotspots with the use of a trajectory-tracking algorithm. After comparing the location of the source of infection with the common route of employees’ daily commute, and analyzing the density of people and vehicles at different times, the system can re-plan a safer journey to work. Satellite Communication is also being used to validate access to school lessons based on the location of pupils and the time when the learning occurred. In some countries, geo-location is being used to inform people if they have been in close contact with a carrier and to quarantine them. Hence, satellite communication, navigation,
Earth-observation, internet, and mobile telemedicine stations, combined with autonomous technologies and geographic information systems are playing a vital role in delivering healthcare, preventing cross-infection between carriers and doctors, and containing the highly contagious coronavirus.
Drones have become powerful tools to visualize expansive areas and communicate in complicated areas. In an effort to disinfect public spaces and prevent the further spread of COVID19, some local health authorities have tested out ways to deploy agriculture spraying drones to disinfect infected areas more efficiently. These spraying drones are filled with disinfectants instead of pesticides, which were previously used in agriculture and are operated to spray the entire public area which can cover 1,00,000 m2 in an hour with a spraying tank of 16L.
Some drones are equipped with infrared cameras to test body temperature measurements. Some authorities carried out large-scale remote temperature measurement in most apartment complexes through the drones. In addition to street surveillance, some authorities are also using drones to broadcast messages and information about lockdown measures, especially an in the rural area that lacks open communication channels for health information. In Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, a drone is used to deliver medical supplies in the hospital. This technology not only speeds up delivery of essential medical supplies and samples but also reduces the risk of exposure to medical staff which made a major difference in efforts to combat the disease. Apart from medical supplies, drones are also being used as delivering groceries in some parts of China, the US, and Australia.
Technologies like Artificial Intelligence, GIS and Mapping, Location Technology, and autonomous machines apart from Electronic medical equipment are playing a growing role in responding to COVID-19 pandemic where much has been and being contributed by ECE people. However, in this war against this invisible enemy, a big salute to the frontline warriors and heroes of the nation – doctors, medical staff, local police, private security guards, etc.
The author is an Assistant Professor at Girijanada Choudury Institute of Management and Technology (GIMT), Guwahati. He can be reached at [email protected]