Apple, Google, 23andMe, and others are fighting COVID-19, from wearables to faster CT scans to contact tracing

  • Many brands are developing new technology to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
  • Apple and Google teamed up to create a contact-tracing feature for their smartphones, while Facebook designed a map that shows all the people who have reported COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Alibaba used its artificial-intelligence technology to help health professionals analyse CT scans within 15 seconds.
  • Some smaller tech companies like Oura and Everlywell are rolling out smart wearable tech and at-home test kits.
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Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Hey, Siri, do I have coronavirus?

Siri: A few questions can help you understand your situation. Ready to begin?

Narrator: More and more tech companies are stepping up to fight the virus, from wearables to contact tracing to developing at-home kits. Of course, these inventions do not replace safety precautions, nor are they intended to be a fix-all. But technology can make a difference in combating the virus’ spread.

For one, Apple and Google are teaming up to build a contact-tracing feature for their phones, which would use Bluetooth to track physical proximity between phones and, hence, their users. This would all be on an opt-in basis. So if you’re one of the users who tested positive for COVID-19, you could report it through the app, and then users who were in recent contact with you would get a notification. Before you scream concerns of privacy and practicality, the tech giants are working on that, with a beta version available for developers now. Besides contact tracing, Apple is also offering resources to screen your symptoms through its website or through Siri.

Siri: Do you have any of the following: fever, dry cough, or trouble breathing?

Narrator: But if you’re not in the Apple ecosystem and own an Amazon Alexa product…

Alexa: If you think you have COVID-19, I can ask you a few questions based on CDC guidelines.

Narrator: You can also ask the voice assistant to play a song for 20 seconds while you wash your hands.

Alexa: ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪ ♪ Happy birthday to you ♪

Narrator: You get the point.

Along with the collection of screening services, there’s also been a rise in maps and dashboards. Facebook released a map of people in the United States who have reported COVID-19 symptoms. The data is from surveying more than a million anonymous participants, and the map breaks it down by each county. Facebook and Google also developed mobility dashboards, showing how movement has changed in places like supermarkets and transit stations.

Wearables have also become popular for earlier health detection. More than 2,000 healthcare workers at the University of California, San Francisco, campus have received an Oura smart ring. This ring has technology to track changes in body temperature, heart rate, and sleep. The goal is to identify frontline healthcare professionals who may be infected before they become symptomatic. Eventually, researchers hope to gather enough data to develop an algorithm for COVID-19 detection.

Artificial intelligence is also assisting frontline healthcare workers. Technology giant Alibaba is using AI to speed up the process of analysing CT scans. This process normally takes up to 15 minutes. Alibaba says the AI shortens it to a max of about 10 seconds and in mid-March said it had already analysed over 240,000 CT scans while maintaining a 96% accuracy rate. This technology has been tested in hospitals in China, and Alibaba hopes to expand its usage to Europe.

23andMe is also conducting research of its own. A genetic study, of course. Its goal is to obtain over 1 million responses and analyse genetic factors that might be associated with COVID-19 to understand why some experience more severe symptoms than others. This research will also consider nongenetic factors like age, obesity, pregnancy, and prior exposure.

Other tests that will slowly come to the market are at-home kits. Everlywell has been doing at-home kits for many health concerns, from fertility tests to allergy tests to HIV tests. Its latest COVID-19 at-home test is not yet available to the general public, but it is working with the FDA to meet guidelines and is offering bulk order options to hospitals and healthcare providers. The way these at-home tests would work is you’d take an online questionnaire to see if you qualify to receive a kit. Once approved, this $US135 kit will be mailed to you. Within 48 hours of the lab getting your sample, you’ll get your results digitally. If the results are positive, there is telehealth available to inform you on next steps.

There are many more companies making big and small steps to fight COVID-19, and we will continue to see more in the future. But in the meantime, stay healthy, use these tools if applicable, and follow instructions. We all have a part in this.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in May 2020.

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