7 Great Innovations Responding to the Coronavirus

Life-saving inventions brought to life in a few days.

Posted Apr 03, 2020

Seven Troughs Mountain Range, Nevada, 2013:

The family Jeep, out for an excursion in the snow, lay upside down on its roof in a remote mountain ravine after hitting a patch of ice and skidding off the road.

The two adults and four kids inside the Jeep were uninjured, but as the temperature dropped to 21 degrees below zero, the six weekend adventurers knew they would quickly freeze to death without the car’s heater. The two adults, James Glanton and girlfriend Christina McIntee, collected their thoughts and came up with an idea to stay alive.

Building a fire of nearby sagebrush, Glanton and McIntee heated some rocks gathered from the ravine floor and placed them in a spare tire as a makeshift radiator inside the overturned jeep.

The quick thinking saved their lives, keeping them warm until a rescue team found them the next day.

In a sense, with COVID-19 we are all in there with the six stranded people in that upside-down Jeep, facing peril with an uncertain outcome. And like that family, we need some fast, out-of-the-box thinking to escape from our current circumstances with as little damage as possible.

Fortunately, the recent crisis has stimulated a flurry of quick-reaction innovations that can help cope with the epidemic. Here are seven, which, like the heated-rock radiator, are more about fast adaptations of existing technology rather than the invention of entirely new technologies.

Seven Innovations

1. Quick-and-dirty ventilators: Virgin Orbits squeeze bag ventilator. In a few days, engineers at Branson’s space venture, working with experts at University of California Irvine and University of Texas, built a simple but effective ventilator from a windshield wiper motor and pliable “AMBUBAG” (hand-operated resuscitator). The device will cost under $500 (as compared with $20,000 plus price tags on conventional respirators). Dr. Govind Rajan, director of clinical affairs at the UC Irvine, said, “This one is going to basically be for all the patients who need a ventilator but do not need a top-line ventilator.”

2. Detecting people with fevers in large crowds: Scylla, an AI company, sells image recognition systems that, among other things, detect guns held by individuals in large crowds of people. Scylla has also adapted its thermal imaging AI algorithms to identify which individuals in a large group (for example, in an airport arrival zone) have fevers. Scylla’s Chief Technology Officer, Ara Ghazaryan said that a South American country has already ordered 5,000 licenses for the new system for use at hospitals, airports and other public venues.

3. Monitoring compliance with social distance guidelines in real time: UNCAST, a data analytics company that uses mobile GPS data to help companies launch precision marketing campaigns to targeted consumers, has adapted their technology to identify which regions of the U.S. are and are not maintaining social distance. By analyzing the separation between adjacent handsets, UNCAST can tell how far apart people are staying from each other across the U.S. The states where social distancing is practiced most rigorously include New York, Minnesota, Michigan, and New Jersey. States with the worst compliance include Colorado and most of the deep South.

4. COVID-19 Symptom tracker APP. Harvard and Stanford Medical schools have teamed up to quick launch an APP, COVID-19 tracker for IOS and Android, that allows public health and medical professionals to monitor disease hotspots in order to decide where to focus scarce resources and plan quarantines. According to Dr. Andrew Chan of Harvard Medical School, “This app-based study is a way to find out where the COVID hotspots are, new symptoms to look out for, and might be used as a planning tool to target quarantines, send ventilators, and provide real-time data to plan for future outbreaks.”

COVID-19 symptoms
Source: CC0

5. Face mask made from heater/air conditioning filters. Daniel Joseph, a designer at Walt Disney Imagineering, has invented a simple face mask that uses abundantly available heater/air conditioning filters.

6. Custom-fit eye-protection for health care workers: In addition to a mask, health care workers need eye protection to prevent small droplets of fluid carrying the virus from reaching their eyes, eyebrows, or eyelashes. But like eyeglasses, eye protectors work best when they fit the user snuggly. Enter Fitz Frames, a maker of custom 3D-printed eyeglass frames who quickly adapted their technology, which uses a mobile APP that quickly captures facial features, to design and print custom eye protectors for health care workers.

7. A proximity device that alerts when others get closer than 6 feet:  The recent surge in COVID-19 cases demonstrates that many people are not following social distance guidelines. There are multiple reasons for such widespread non-compliance, but two of those reasons are social discomfort with enforcing distancing (I don't want to be seen as as snitch or nag so I won't express discomfort with other's disregard for the 6' limit) and distance misjudgment (many people actually don't know how far away 6' is). A new wearable called "FaceFence"  addresses both of these problems by alerting when another person wearing a  device gets closer than 6',  removing both the stigma of asking others not to get closer than a safe distance and eliminating the guesswork about how far away 6' is.

You can help, now.

Great innovations can come from anywhere—and are much-needed now—so my question for you is: Do you have any ideas for fighting the virus? If so, please post them in the comment section.

Help us all get out of the freezing, overturned Jeep in which we find ourselves.