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New Technologies Created in 2020 to Fight COVID-19


Staff members of the Italian start-up Isinnova show valves produced with a 3D printer for hospitals near the northern Italian city of Brescia, in Chiari Italy, on March 15, 2020. (CRISTIAN FRACASSI/Handout via REUTERS)
New Technologies Created in 2020 to Fight COVID-19
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The COVID-19 pandemic affected many industries across the world in 2020. Many companies faced severe economic difficulties related to the worldwide spread of the new coronavirus. But, some were able to develop new technologies to help fight the disease in an effort to improve people’s lives.

3D printed oxygen valves

One of the first companies we reported on related to the pandemic developed a 3D printer to quickly produce oxygen valves to treat COVID-19 patients.

The new Italian company Isinnova found a way to use its 3D printing equipment to copy the medical devices. Valves are used to connect oxygen to patients suffering from breathing problems. The company produced the life-saving equipment for free after it learned many Italian hospitals faced a serious shortage of valves.

The three winners of the CodeTheCurve hackathon challenge are shown. From left, Joaquin Lopez Herraiz from the X-COV team; Ali Serag, leader of COVIDImpact; and Christy Xie, from team VRoam. (Photos: CodeTheCurve/Facebook)
The three winners of the CodeTheCurve hackathon challenge are shown. From left, Joaquin Lopez Herraiz from the X-COV team; Ali Serag, leader of COVIDImpact; and Christy Xie, from team VRoam. (Photos: CodeTheCurve/Facebook)

‘Hackathon’ solutions

The CodeTheCurve ‘hackathon’ for young people led to several possible new ways to deal with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. The event’s organizers included the United Nations, American technology company IBM and European software business SAP.

One of the winning teams created a system that uses machine learning and picture technology to examine chest X-rays to identify the most severe COVID-19 patients. Another team developed an app that uses virtual reality to let users explore different places around the world while exercising from home.

Wearable devices like the Oura fitness tracker, seen here, are being used to monitor symptoms that could predict infection of COVID-19. (Oura)
Wearable devices like the Oura fitness tracker, seen here, are being used to monitor symptoms that could predict infection of COVID-19. (Oura)

Wearable technology research

Several companies studied the effectiveness of wearable devices to identify early signs of COVID-19.

Researchers at America’s West Virginia University reported in May a device they tested was able to identify COVID-19 signs up to three days before people started to experience them.

Another research project, carried out by the California-based Scripps Research Institute, examined data from devices worn by more than 30,000 volunteers. Researchers said their early results showed the devices could successfully identify people who had no signs of COVID-19 but were still infectious.

Japanese startup Donut Robotics' CEO Taisuke Ono shows the c-mask and its mobile phone application during a demonstration in Tokyo, Japan June 23, 2020. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
Japanese startup Donut Robotics' CEO Taisuke Ono shows the c-mask and its mobile phone application during a demonstration in Tokyo, Japan June 23, 2020. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

‘Smart’ face mask

A Japanese company created a “smart” mask that aims to improve communication for people wearing face coverings. Donut Robotics calls its invention the “c-mask.” It is meant to fit over other kinds of face masks commonly worn by the public.

The mask is made of soft plastic material and contains a built-in microphone. When it is turned on, the mask uses Bluetooth technology to connect to a mobile device.

An app then helps users perform several actions, including turning speech into written text, completing telephone calls and making the user’s voice louder. The device can also translate a person’s voice from Japanese into eight other languages.

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample for a COVID-19 test, provided for free by the municipal government in Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 16, 2020.
A health worker takes a nasal swab sample for a COVID-19 test, provided for free by the municipal government in Bogota, Colombia, Oct. 16, 2020.

Machine learning to identify COVID-19

Researchers reported success with machine learning systems designed to identify COVID-19 cases by the sounds of a person’s cough. Machine learning describes computer technology that improves itself through a process similar to human learning.

One study, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), showed a high success rate in identifying COVID-19 in people who had no physical signs of the disease.

A team at Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Mellon University has used similar methods to develop a “voice-based testing system for COVID-19.” That system uses recordings of coughs – as well as some vowel sounds and the alphabet – to identify “signatures” of the disease.

3D printed coronavirus model and Google logo are placed near an Apple Macbook Pro in this illustration taken April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
3D printed coronavirus model and Google logo are placed near an Apple Macbook Pro in this illustration taken April 12, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Contact tracing apps

Apple and Google cooperated to launch a mobile phone tool to follow the contacts of people infected with coronavirus. The technology became the basis for apps developed by U.S. states and several nations to carry out contact tracing.

The system operates with Bluetooth wireless technology, which permits devices near each other to exchange information and create a record. If a device user becomes infected with the virus and agrees to share that information, the record is used to inform other people that they also might have been infected.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

3D printer – n. a device that can manufacture objects in a way similar to how copies of documents are made

valve – n. a mechanical device that controls the flow of liquids

app (application)– n. a computer program

virtual reality – n. pictures and sounds created by a computer that are aimed at affecting a person’s experiences and senses

translate – v. to change words from one language to another

cough – n. to force air through the throat making short loud noises, often because a person is sick

signature – n. signs that show a specific thing is present

contact tracing – n. to watch and record who a person has contact to discover the spread of disease

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