Never miss a story

Get subscribed to our newsletter

Technology and innovation witnessed a boost during pandemic. Wikimedia Commons

On Northwestern University’s sprawling campus, down a long corridor in the school’s Technological Institute, Josiah Hester is practicing safe social distancing as part of a small engineering team working on the front lines of a technology war against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Detecting potential COVID-19 cases is labor-intensive and often intrusive. Hester’s team hopes to change that by using technology.

Follow our Twitter for more exciting updates.

“We’re working on what you call smart PPE, so smart personal protective equipment,” Hester explained to VOA inside his small workspace. “You can think of this as face masks with tiny sensors in them to detect all kinds of things, such as symptoms of COVID, to fatigue, to even, ‘Does this mask fit on my face? Am I wearing it properly?'”

He’s part of a team creating something from scratch with plans to mass-produce it in months, not years.

“Once we engineer enough where it could be deployed in a very, very large batch, the economies of scale would bring (the cost of) this way down,” Hester said.

On the other side of the technological institute, John Rogers isn’t just designing wearable sensors, he’s manufacturing them right in his lab on Northwestern’s campus.

“The devices that we develop have physical form factors very similar to those of a Band-Aid, so we can really place them on any part of the anatomy so we aren’t constrained to the wrist,” Rogers, an engineer, and professor of neurosurgery, as well as bioelectronics, explained to VOA from his bustling laboratory.

“And I have one of the devices on right now,” Rogers added, pointing to the white object on his throat. “It sits on the base of the neck right above the collar bone. We initially developed this device to measure speech and swallowing activity in stroke survivors.”

Researchers say the swift development of wearable sensors tailored to a pandemic reinforces how a major crisis can accelerate innovation. Wikimedia Commons

Evolving system

As concern over coronavirus exposure spreads through the health care community, Rogers and his team adapted the device to meet the challenges of the moment.

“This system could be tailored to monitor the key respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19, which are shortness of breath and coughing.”

In under three weeks, Rogers’s team modified the device and deployed it in two Chicago-area medical facilities.

Working with Naresh Shanbhag, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Rogers’ device incorporates machine-learning algorithms that analyze data collected and uploaded by the sensors, including oxygen levels, chest wall movements, and any coughing — all useful information for doctors assessing whether someone has COVID-19.

“I think we have on order about 30 devices (to be) deployed so far,” said Rogers. “We’ll probably double that number up over the next week or two, and hope to have 100 to 200 deployed by the end of the month.”

Growing demand

He said he expects demand for the devices will grow.

“There’s time pressure and there’s an urgency. But as engineers you love that — you are all about problem-solving,” he said. “We’re in a number of different conversations with companies who want to deploy these devices on their employees, so they can sort of track their employee health.”

Recently, there have been remarkable advances in the use of technology. Pixabay

Which presents the next set of challenges — ramping up production.

“We also have spin-up companies that serve as a vehicle for sort of a broader commercially oriented deployment that allows us to hit levels of scale that we can’t reach with philanthropy and foundations and federal research grants,” Rogers said.

Researchers say the swift development of wearable sensors tailored to a pandemic reinforces how a major crisis can accelerate innovation.

“I think it’s really opened people’s eyes to what’s possible, in terms of modern technology in that context,” Rogers said.

Also Read: The Use of Language in Politics

As Hester works to reduce the size of his PPE sensor, he says he is keenly aware of the impact of his work on monitoring the virus, and ultimately saving lives.

“The scientific challenge and scientific impact you can have is definitely turning this into a moonshot,” Hester said. “No matter what, we’ll end up with a lot of science later on that could be helpful later on in building these kinds of devices.”

Researchers hope their efforts spawn new technology and applications that could have a lasting benefit beyond the health care sector, well after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.



Narakasura's death is celebrated as 'Naraka Chaturdashi' popularly known as Choti Diwali

Diwali is arguably one of the most auspicious and celebrated holidays in South Asia. It is celebrated over the span of five days, where the third is considered most important and known as Diwali. During Diwali people come together to light, lamps, and diyas, savour sweet delicacies and pray to the lord. The day has various origin stories with the main them being the victory of good over evil. While the North celebrates the return of Lord Rama and Devi Sita to Ayodhya, the South rejoices in the victory of Lord Krishna and his consort Satyabhama over evil Narakasura.

Narakasura- The great mythical demon King

Naraka or Narakasur was the son of Bhudevi (Goddess Earth) and fathered either by the Varaha incarnation of Vishnu or Hiranyaksha. He grew to be a powerful demon king and became the legendary progenitor of all three dynasties of Pragjyotisha-Kamarupa, and the founding ruler of the legendary Bhauma dynasty of Pragjyotisha.

Keep Reading Show less
Wikimedia Commons

Safety-pins with charms

For all the great inventions that we have at hand, it is amazing how we keep going back to the safety pin every single time to fix everything. Be it tears in our clothes, to fix our broken things, to clean our teeth and nails when toothpicks are unavailable, to accessorize our clothes, and of course, as an integral part of the Indian saree. Safety pins are a must-have in our homes. But how did they come about at all?

The safety pin was invented at a time when brooches existed. They were used by the Greeks and Romans quite extensively. A man named Walter Hunt picked up a piece of brass and coiled it into the safety pin we know today. He did it just to pay off his debt. He even sold the patent rights of this seemingly insignificant invention just so that his debtors would leave him alone.

Keep Reading Show less

Sesame oil bath is also called ennai kuliyal in Tamil

In South India, Deepavali marks the end of the monsoon and heralds the start of winter. The festival is usually observed in the weeks following heavy rain, and just before the first cold spell in the peninsula. The light and laughter that comes with the almost week-long celebration are certainly warm to the bones, but there is still a tradition that the South Indians follow to ease their transition from humidity to the cold.

Just before the main festival, the family bathes in sesame oil. This tradition is called 'yellu yennai snaana' in Kannada, or 'ennai kuliyal' in Tamil, which translates to 'sesame oil bath'. The eldest member of the family applies three drops of heated oil on each member's head. They must massage this oil into their hair and body. The oil is allowed to soak in for a while, anywhere between twenty minutes to an hour. After this, they must wash with warm water before sunrise.

Keep reading... Show less