A tunnel that disinfects people before they enter a market, a locket that beeps if a person breaches the six-foot Lakshman rekha of the wearer, a UVC LED mop to sanitise homes, a robot to minimise doctor-patient contact and a surveillance system to track the infected — the non-medical community is just as busy trying to save lives from Coronavirus. A report by SHALINI SAKSENA
The doctors and nurses are busy treating COVID-19 patients. Away from hospitals, entrepreneurs, IITs and even school students are busy giving their ideas wings to come up with gadgets that will keep people safe and healthy during and after the epidemic. Their motto: Prevention is better than cure.
D Venkatesh, an entrepreneur from Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, who runs a water treatment business (WTT Technology Services India Pvt Ltd), is one such person. Even though Venkatesh was staying home because his factory is shut, it didn’t stop him and his friends from talking about the Coronavirus impact. Long phone chats led him to explore options through which he could contribute. It was not until March 29, 2020 that he finally decided to do something about it.
“It was a Sunday. I had not stepped out of the house since the lockdown was announced. We needed some household items and went to the market. The scene shocked me. It looked like a mela. There must have been over 1,000 people at the farmers’ market in total disregard to social distancing. I had seen a tunnel structure on YouTube spraying people in Turkey with a disinfectant using the humidifying method. That fascinated me and got me thinking. Next day, on Monday, I opened my factory and worked on a tunnel that suited us. On March 31, 2020, the 16-foot tunnel was ready,” Venkatesh says.
Making the structure was easy but what came next, to figure out how to spray the disinfectant on the people was tricky. The tunnel uses one of the two disinfectants — hypochlorite and Chlorine. “I had started my career working with an Italian company and hence the attitude that human safety comes first. I had to ensure that the spray didn’t affect the eyes, nose and skin. This meant that no water droplets touched the skin. I made a system with a pump of 70 bar pressure with tiny holes of three microns. With such high pressure and tiny holes, the solution of water and hypochlorite becomes a mist. Another challenge was to ensure that the mist covered the entire human body — from hands to feet,” Venkatesh tells you.
The test was done in the local market after Venkatesh managed to speak with the Collector who gave him the go-ahead. He used hypochlorite with a PPM of 0.5, what is used in swimming pools. Venkatesh also had to ensure that this misty disinfectant actually killed the virus and people didn’t carry it with them. So, people needed to raise their hands with palms out when they walked through the tunnel. Just like one has to take a shower after a swim, a shower after the tunnel walk is also must after one gets home. But Venkatesh was not sure how many people would actually do so, hence the low PPM.
“It is judicious to shower once you are home. The contact time inside the tunnel is three seconds —enough to kill the virus but not harmful to humans if they don’t shower. There is also a reason why I kept the tunnel that long. I know that people don’t have the time or patience to stand in a queue. The 16-foot tunnel means that there is a steady flow of people doing away with long queues,” Venkatesh explains.
Since his test run on April 1, 2020, Venkatesh has been busy and has sold 50 such tunnels that cost Rs 85,000 each to various cities, including Bengaluru, Kochi, Calicut and Hyderabad. His idea was to make five such tunnels and donate them. But the overwhelming response that his invention got ensured that he is working long hours to make many more. He is getting queries from mall owners, the Railways and cinema hall owners. He is also getting calls from Ministers, Collectors and MLAs.
Up North, 2,845 km away, a team at Lovely Professional University (LPU) in Phagwara, Punjab, has been busy trying to find answers on how to ensure social distancing. Prabin Kumar Das, a BTech student (Electronics Communication and Engineering) at the university, along with his professors, has developed an IoT device — Kawachh — to promote safe social distancing. The device, a pendant, vibrates and glows in case someone breaches the user’s safe space of a metre. Not only that, the device is equipped with a handwash reminder that beeps every 30 minutes as well as a temperature sensor that alerts via an SMS in case their body temperature crosses the prescribed limit.
Dr Lovi Raj Gupta, Executive Dean of Science and Technology, LPU, tells you that, at present, there are three pressing issues to COVID-19. First, to maintain distance. Second, to wash and sanitise hands. Third, and most important, to monitor one’s health.
“People forget to maintain social distancing with family and friends. The battery-operated device helps on all three counts. It gives an alert after a specific time to wash hands and beeps if the one-metre distance is breached. The device also keeps a record of one’s health because we know it is not possible for people to monitor their temperature every few hours. To get an alert on one’s health, one needs to pair it with a device like one would do with a Fitbit,” Gupta explains.
He also tells you that they realised the Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate and it was necessary to keep the cost low. Building the prototype cost the team approximately Rs 500. Gupta and his team hope once the lockdown opens, they will be able to introduce this locket at a cost of Rs 400.
It is not just the safety of masses that is in question here. Several doctors too, who had been working with COVID-19 cases, fell prey to the virus. In order to keep the medical staff safe, three students — two from KIIT World School in Pitampura and one from Modern School, Barakhamba Road in the Capital, have come up with an innovative idea.
Saurav Maheshkar of Class XII, Nishant Chandna of Class X and Aditya Dubey have conceptualised, designed and built the robot — Prithvi — a battery operated prototype, a programmable board and basic motors at a cost less than Rs 5,000. Due to the lockdown, the trio had to make the bot with cardboard. However, when it goes for mass production, the bot would require a sturdier built. The aim here is to reduce contact between healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients.
Maheshkar tells you that the idea came after their principal asked students to come up Corona fighters. “The robot is meant to deliver food and medicine to those in quarantine. It can be programmed to go to the patient deliver food, medicine and if the person under quarantine wants, he can speak with his family via video conferencing. We have used — arduino controller — openly available chips that people use to make codes with motors to run the bot with a 25-volt battery that can run for an hour of continuous work. One can increase the battery volt to increase the working hours,” Maheshkar says. The three are now looking for help from universities to better their bot. Interestingly, Maheshkar and Chandna met Dubey at an activist meet to protest against the rising air pollution levels in New Delhi, last year.
Chandna tells you that there were some challenges even though this was not the first bot they had built for the healthcare sector. “The challenge came when I had to make the body. I had to use cardboard. We have been working on robotics for the last two-three years. Our team had won the nationals — we had earlier made a bot for the physically challenged. But this bot has been modified keeping in mind the virus patients. It took me around two weeks to complete the bot,” Chandna says.
Then there is the problem of keeping track of those people who have recovered from COVID-19 but their movement needs to be restricted. To meet this challenge, start-ups and entrepreneurs from IIT Roorkee have come up with a surveillance system. Raven Eye, an incubated start-up founded by Professor Kamal Jain, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Roorkee, has developed a system to fight COVID-19 through a tracking mobile application. Using geo-fencing technology, the system generates alerts if any individual violates quarantine.
There are some in-built guards against hacking. In case the network is not available, the app will send an alert through SMS. In case the phone is switched off, it will send a message to the main server. If the person steps beyond the Lakshman rekha, it will send a message. If the person tries to delete the app, it will send a message. “In no case can the person try to side-step the system which we have been using in tracking vehicles even before GPS came to India. So, tracking COVID-19 patients will not be a big task. The surveillance system is a plug-and-play device which allows tracking with an accuracy of +/- 5 metres through notifications at two, 10 or 20 seconds. Besides live tracking, the administrator can view the entire movement history of an individual,” Jain says.
The IIT Roorkee has also developed a low-cost portable ventilator. Named Prana-vayu, the closed-loop ventilator has been developed in collaboration with AIIMS, Rishikesh, and is equipped with state-of-the-art features. The manufacturing cost per ventilator is estimated at Rs 25,000.
Helyxon, a health tech start-up that works in close collaboration with IIT Madras Healthcare Technology Innovation Centre, has come with AI-enabled devices for better management of the pandemic. Vital health parametres like temperature, oxygen saturation as well as heart rate offer critical clues to the health condition of the patient and this can be done via two digital solutions – OXY-2 and 98.6 Fever Watch priced at Rs 5,799 and Rs 2,499, respectively. “The AI-backed biosensor devices reliably capture trend of parametres like temperature and alerts the remote medical staff or an attendant in case of anomaly. This allows immediate intervention when needed. It also cuts down the work of regular manual monitoring which is, in any case, impossible for thousands of patients,” Vijai Shankar Raja, founder, Helyxon, says.
In the North-East, the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati has developed a low-cost UVC LED-based disinfectant system for surfaces. Dr Senthilmurugan Subbiah, Department of Chemical Engineering, IIT Guwahati, says that the aim is to disinfect surfaces — be it homes, hospitals or malls and even water. “This system works the same way a vacuum cleaner works. It has wheels at the bottom and one needs to move it to clean the floor. There is a velocity at which it needs to move. Anything faster and it won’t work. A certain area needs to be exposed for 30 seconds for the UVC LED light to kill the virus at the dosage that has been pre-set,” explains Subbiah whose team had started working on the mop back in mid-February.
The normal UV rays can damage the eyes, but this device will stop working the minute one lifts it from the floor. The idea is to protect people from the harmful rays. The rechargeable in-built battery-operated system will have variants depending on where it has to be used. Unlike for home where the mop will be manual, the ones for commercial areas will be automated and programmed to go wherever necessary. The team is also in the process of making a device that can be used to clean doorknobs. The team ains at ensuring that the device is not expensive by keeping the cost under Rs 1,000.
“The COVID-19 is protein-based with RNA and DNA. The UVC LED system interchanges the structure of the protein. Once its changed, it is more or less dead. If 36 Joules of a dose is given to a certain surface, it kills 90 per cent of the virus sitting on it. This mop gives 4-log dose killing 99.99 per cent of the virus. Whatever is left will not harm,” Subbiah says.
HACK THE CRISIS
It was one of its kind online hackathon in India to discover non-medical solutions to stop the spread of tOVID-19. It saw huge participation with over 2,300 registrations and close to 15,000 participants from across India and overseas. Over 300 top teams presented their innovative ideas with a pre-recorded video pitch via webinar. Out of the 300 submissions, 30 of them topped the Mentor Board and top 10 Leader Jury Board.
Gayatri Chhabria, Pune FLO member tells you that they aim to strengthen and bolster fight against COVID-19 for India. "It inspired by an event in the second week of March 2020 where a hackathon was organised and invited non-medical staff to come up with ideas to tackle COVID-19. Payal Rajpal, South Asia head Robotex International and I approached Ritu Prakash Chhabria, chairperson, FLO Pune Chapter who gave us go ahead. We partnered with Garage 48 a private company based out of Europe which handled the backend of the hackathon for us. We also support of many ministries like Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Make in India, MyGov, MEITY Start-up Hub, Maharashtra State Innovation Society and Ministry of Skill and Entrepreneurship, Science and Technology Park to name a few. We have now been invited for a global hackathon to represent India," Chhabria says.
The kill zone
It has become imperative to identify technological opportunities and find unique solutions to contain or at least mitigate the chances of spread of COVID-19. Log 9 Materials Pvt Ltd., a Bengaluru-headquartered nanotechnology start-up, has come up with an innovative, first-of-its-kind product -- CoronaOven -- that makes use of UVC light (having wavelength of 253.7 nm) in order to disinfect surfaces from germs including bacteria and viruses.
The system is lightweight and portable disinfection chamber (20 litres volume) designed to kill Coronovirus. What makes the product stand out is its ability to kill virus/pathogens within 10 minutes from the time the object is placed inside the chamber for undergoing disinfection.
Akshay Singhal, founder-CEO, Log9 Materials tells you that that the product has been specifically designed keeping in mind the cell structure and characteristics of the Coronavirus. "We were able to create this product and conduct simulations for the same within a couple weeks. Not only does the CoronaOven provide accurate and necessary energy via multi-focal UVC radiation on each point on the surface on an object to be disinfected/sterilised, but also guarantees 100 per cent destruction of the Coronovirus and other harmful microorganisms. It is a scalable and cost-effective solution built with easily available materials, and is as simple to use like a normal microwave," Singhal says.
The principle on which it works is simple. Once a specific intensity of UVC light is exposed to Covid-19 virus, it penetrates the virus shell, reaches its RNA strand making a permanent alteration in its RNA structure, which renders the virus incapable of infecting or replicating inside a live cell.