How students are assisting in the battle against covid-193 min read . Updated: 23 Apr 2020, 11:00 PM IST
From tracking apps to portable ventilators, institutes are coming up with grassroots solutions
If social distancing rules are troublesome for someone to follow, a device called Kawach can help. A square-shaped pendant, it is meant to be worn around the neck and glows whenever someone comes within one metre of the wearer. It can also send reminders to the wearer about regularly washing hands and also monitor body temperature.
Kawach is the brainchild of Prabin Kumar Das, a B.Tech student, and a group of professors at the Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Punjab. The device comprises an inbuilt vibrator, LED lights and body temperature sensor and more. It beeps every 30 minutes to remind the wearer to wash hands and sends SMSs in case of any increase in body temperature.
In his 14 April speech on extending the nationwide lockdown to 3 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had encouraged youth to join the fight against covid-19 by helping with research. Students across India have been innovating ever since the pandemic began and LPU’s example is one of many.
Early this month, a startup called Aerobiosys Innovations, incubated in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Hyderabad’s Center for Healthcare Entrepreneurship (CfHE), said it had come up with a low-cost ventilator called Jeevan Lite. The portable ventilator can be operated through a smartphone app and the company plans to produce 50-70 units each day. Also, while regular ventilators cost more than ₹1.5 lakh, the startup plans to sell Jeevan Lite at ₹1 lakh.
“Patients with severe covid-19 infection have inflamed or damaged lungs that struggle to receive sufficient oxygen. When doctors put them on a ventilator, the machine critically assists lung function, feeding the patients a controlled mixture of air and oxygen and buying their body time to fight the infection," the Indian Institute of Science’s (IISc) said on its website.
The institute is also developing ventilators in-house. “For the last 10 days, we have been working day and night to get this technology going. We hope that by the end of April, manufacturers can have their own prototypes done, which they can scale up very quickly," said Gaurab Banerjee, associate professor at the department of electrical communication engineering at IISc and one of the project coordinators.
According to the IISc, the project was started by current and former faculty members from the institute along with Bangalore-based engineer Manas Pradhan. It also received technical inputs from around 100 volunteers. The institute claims that companies such as Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd have “expressed interest" in supporting mass production of the ventilators.
Aerobiosys Innovations also said that the availability of app-based monitoring allows healthcare workers to distance themselves from patients unless they absolutely need to be there.
“Jeevan Lite can perform both the invasive and non-invasive ventilation across a comprehensive set of modes and settings," the company claimed in a press release.
The IIT Hyderabad example is one of many such instances that come from India’s premier technical colleges. IIT Guwahati has provided 5,000 sanitiser bottles to the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GCMH). The institute also provided two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines to GCMH for diagnosing coronavirus infected patients and its faculty members have also developed in-house PCR machines.
College level research isn’t only on developing hardware though. The National Institute of Technology (NIT), Warangal, recently got the approval to run an experiment on IBM Research’s covid-19 supercomputer. In that experiment, faculty from NIT will study the dependence of structure and dynamics of Sars-CoV-2 on temperature and humidity in the atmosphere. This research could be important and could help dispel rumours about the novel coronavirus being unable to survive in warmer temperatures.
The study could help in characterizing future classes in the coronavirus family and in categorizing and designing drugs for the viruses.
Abhijit Ahaskar contributed to this story