By mustering resources at its disposal and deploying the latest technology, China has mitigated the effects of COVID-19 to a significant extent and profiled people at risk.
The similarities in facts and fiction aren’t generally as obvious as in the case of the 2011 Hollywood film Contagion, which today appears to be hauntingly prescient —almost like a chronicle of a pandemic foretold. Mass quarantines, food scarcity, endless queues and ghost towns due to a virus outbreak in the film make you feel as if we are living in a time that was well scripted several years ago. What is different, though, is the availability and use of sophisticated technologies that can, and in a lot of ways are, proving to be critical in combating the Novel Coronavirus and reclaiming our spaces.
Like Black Deaths in Europe during the medieval ages or the Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918, COVID-19 has exposed human fragility, along with the downside of an interconnected world. The only reprieve, thanks to technological advancements, is that we are more equipped than any era in history to respond to a pandemic.
During the time of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2002, it took scientists more than a year to decode the genome of the virus, whereas thanks to tech advancements, the Coronavirus genome was identified within a month.
With despair lingering and the world in disarray, had it not been for effective and advanced technology solutions, we would have been staring at an unmanageable crisis. China illustrates this case. By mustering resources at its disposal and deploying the latest technology, the country has mitigated the effects of the virus to a significant extent and profiled people at risk. Today, several affected countries are looking at the Chinese model of the best use of technology to save their populations in this race against time.
It is known that positioning technologies play a crucial role during the time of crisis and disasters. Government agencies and first responders on the ground require precise positions to accurately assess the situation, pinpoint the riskiest areas and carry out relief and rehabilitation efforts accordingly. In the case of epidemics and outbreaks too, GNSS comes in quite handy. In China, BeiDou, the country’s own GNSS constellation, helped track patients and affected places, thus containing the virus, apart from analyzing the pattern of the outbreak. With the help of reliable data and precise mapping and imagery, China could build thousands of new makeshift hospitals across the country.
BeiDou is being used by decision-makers for transportation planning. Logistics companies are using GNSS terminals to help ply essential relief goods faster. BeiDou also has an RDSS (Radio Determination Satellite Service) that is relaying information in real-time. According to reports, the Chinese government was able to hasten the construction of two new hospitals in Wuhan mainly due to BeiDou.
In Ruichang, Jiangxi province, the police forces are using BeiDou-enabled drones for monitoring congested public areas. The Chinese Ministry of Transportation was able to swiftly send emergency messages to over 6 million connected vehicles using BeiDou. The Chinese e-commerce giant JD also delivered medical equipment in remote hospital areas in Wuhan with the help of robots based on BeiDou.
While dozens of makeshift hospitals were being constructed at a breakneck pace, their progress was continuously being monitored using GaoFen, a constellation of high-resolution earth observation satellites. Zhuhai-1 hyperspectral imaging satellite and ESA’s Sentinel-1 also helped in non-stop monitoring of hospital construction. Wuhan University actively collected and analyzed multiple data sources and identified which site would be best suitable for the hospital.
TFSTAR, a second-generation AI satellite designed by the Satellite Technology Research Center of the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) and ADA-Space, is capable of powerful analytics and processing, which enables it to sift through the data. By combining TFSTAR’s data processing capability with geocoding, a health visualization of COVID-19 was created on which people could see the geographical reach of the virus and could find out the distance between them and active infection.
From preparing meals at hospitals, doubling up as waiters in restaurants, spraying disinfectants to vending rice and dispensing hand sanitizers, robots were on the frontline to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. In many hospitals, robots were also performing diagnosis and conducting thermal imaging. Shenzhen-based company Multicopter is using robots to transport medical samples.
A hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, was being staffed entirely by robots. Wuchang Hospital, China Mobile and Cloud Minds, a manufacturer of Cloud-based robotics systems, came together for this project aimed at making the hospital facility completely smart and digital. Most of the devices in the hospital are IoT enabled and services are carried out by robots. The initial screening of the patients is done by 5G-enabled thermometers that send instant updates. Also, there are rings and bracelets that are connected to the CloudMinds AI platform so that it can monitor all changes in the body.
As per a Reuters report, a small robot called Little Peanut was delivering food to passengers on a flight from Singapore to Hangzhou, China who were being held under quarantine in a hotel.
CloudMinds alone has deployed 100 robots in the country’s hospitals. A few modified robots like Cloud Ginger (aka XR-1) and the Smart Transportation Robot carry food and medicine to patients from healthcare providers without any human contact.