Tag Archives: the-institute

IBM’s New AI Tool Parses A Tidal Wave of Coronavirus Research

Post Syndicated from Lynne Peskoe-Yang original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/ibms-new-ai-tool-parses-a-tidal-wave-of-coronavirus-research

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE In the race to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, health care providers and scientists must sift through a growing mountain of research, both new and old. But they face several obstacles. The sheer volume of material makes using traditional search engines difficult because simple keyword searches aren’t sufficient to extract meaning from the published research. This is further complicated by the fact that most search engines present research results in visual file formats like pdfs and bitmaps, which are unreadable to typical web browsers.

IEEE Member Peter Staar, a researcher at IBM Research Europe, in Zurich, and manager of the Scalable Knowledge Ingestion group, has built a platform called Deep Search that could help speed along the process. The cloud-based platform combs through literature, reads and labels each data point, table, image, and paragraph, and translates scientific content into a uniform, searchable structure.

The reading function of the Deep Search platform consists of a natural language processing (NLP) tool called the corpus conversion service (CCS), developed by Staar for other information-dense domains. The CCS trains itself on already-annotated documents to create a ground truth, or knowledge base, of how papers in a given realm are typically arranged, Staar says. After the training phase, new papers uploaded to the service can be quickly compared to the ground truth for faster recognition of each element.

Once the CCS has a general understanding of how papers in a field are structured, Staar says, the Deep Search platform presents two options. It can either generate simple results in response to a traditional search query, essentially serving as an advanced pdf reader, or it can generate a report on a specific topic, such as the dosage of a particular drug, with deeper analysis that the group calls a knowledge graph.

“[The] knowledge graph allows us to answer these relatively complex questions that are not able to be answered with just a keyword lookup,” Staar explains.

To keep the data in the platform’s knowledge base up to the highest standards possible, Staar says the team bolsters their corpora with trusted, open-source databases such as DrugBank for chemical, pharmaceutical, and pharmacological drug data and GenBank for established and publicly available data sequences.


Deep Search is based on a similar platform that Staar built in 2018 for material science and for oil and gas research, fields that both faced a deluge of data. Staar recognized that the same solution could be used to parse the tsunami of data about SARS-CoV-2. The platform was designed to be generic enough to be extended to other domains of research.

“Our goal was to help the medical community with a tool that we already had in our hands,” Staar says. Currently, the COVID-19 Deep Search service supports 460 active users and has ingested nearly 46,000 scientific articles.

The platform can even use search queries to divide results according to scientific camp.

“In the oil and gas business, when different philosophies [on environmental impact] collide, you can say, ‘Okay, if you follow a certain stream of thought, then you might be more interested in papers that are associated with this group of people, rather than with that group,’” Staar says.

If the scientific community is divided on a major attribute of SARS-CoV-2, for example, Deep Search might cluster search results around each camp. When a user searches for that attribute, the platform could analyze the wording of their search string and then guide the user to the cluster of results that most closely aligns with the user’s approach.


This isn’t the first time a pressing global health crisis has prompted scientists to try to streamline the publishing process. A 2010 analysis of literature from the 2003 SARS outbreak found that, despite efforts to shorten wait times for both acceptance and publishing, 93 percent of the papers on SARS didn’t come out until the epidemic had already ended and the bulk of deaths had already occurred.

Unlike their counterparts in 2003, however, present-day epidemic researchers have benefitted from the advent of preprint servers such bioRxiv and medRxiv, which enable uncorrected articles to be shared digitally regardless of acceptance or submission status. Preprints have been around since the early 1990s, but the public health emergency of SARS-CoV-2 prompted a new surge in popularity for the alternative publishing practice, as well as a new round of concern over its impact.

Deep Search capitalizes on the preprint trend to further reduce obstacles to sharing the content of research papers. But it also aims to address one of the chief criticisms of preprints: that without peer review, the average reader may be unable to distinguish high-quality research from low-quality research. Though every new paper has equal weight in the Deep Search algorithms, the volume of data it ingests allows for statistical comparisons among conclusions. Users can easily see whether a result is consistent with previous findings or seems to be an outlier.

These relational functions, in which Deep Search sorts, links, and compares data as it returns results constitute the platform’s signature advantage, Staar says. Developing a treatment molecule, for example, might start with a search to determine which gene to target within the viral RNA.

“If you understand which genes are important, then you can start understanding which proteins are important, which leads you to which kinds of molecules you can build for which kinds of targets,” he says. “That’s what our tool is really built for.”

IEEE Sections Receive Grants for Their Innovative Ways of Helping to Fight the Coronavirus

Post Syndicated from Joanna Goodrich original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/ieee-sections-receive-grants-for-their-innovative-ways-of-helping-to-fight-the-coronavirus

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE The IEEE Humanitarian Activities Committee and the IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology joined forces to award grants to IEEE volunteer projects that could immediately impact the fight against the coronavirus and its effects. The technologies and programs being developed by various IEEE sections include ones that are intended to supplement online education, help stop the spread of the virus, and provide support to medical professionals.

The grants, totaling more than US $226,000 as of press time, were given to more than 50 projects in 21 countries. Updated information can be found here.

Below are six projects that were awarded grants of $5,000, the highest amount a project could receive.

• The IEEE Columbus [Ohio] Section, in collaboration with local community groups and eight nonprofits, is developing systems for a self-sustaining urban farm in Columbus’s Milo Grogan neighborhood. African Americans—who make up more than 80 percent of residents there—have been disproportionally affected by the virus. About 45 percent of the neighborhood’s residents live below the poverty line, according to a 2016 study by the nonprofit Greater Ohio Policy Center, making it difficult to afford healthy food, like fresh produce.

The IEEE section is developing automated lighting and watering systems for the urban farm. The lighting system’s cycles will be determined by the type of LEDs being used in a specific area of the farm and the growth stage of the produce in that area, according to IEEE Senior Member Carl Lee. The water system’s schedule will be based on the type of plant, what growing medium is used, and what type of nutrient mixtures are added to the growing medium.

The Milo Grogan 365 Fresh Produce Farm will provide local restaurants and residents, who will also manage the farm, with organic produce year-round. The farm, which is expected to start food production in 2021, will also create jobs and revenue for the neighborhood.

• The IEEE Nigeria Section is building a robot that can quickly detect whether a person has COVID-19 symptoms, by, for example, checking for low blood oxygen levels and elevated body temperature. The IEEE section’s robot will use machine learning algorithms and absolute accuracy metrics to ensure the measurements are precise.

The section is also developing a program to train city leaders in Jos, in the Plateau State, how to make alcohol-based hand sanitizer and create personal protection equipment. The hand sanitizer is being made from a mixture of either grounded camphor or wild spinach as well as ethanol, glycerin, and lavender oil, according to IEEE Senior Member John Oyewole Funso-Adebayo. The PPE are made from tight-woven cotton fabric that is sewn by hand or by a sewing machine, he says. Many of the city’s residents live in camps and are internally displaced persons—those who were forced to flee their homes but remain within Nigeria’s borders.

• Volunteers from the IEEE Ecuador Section and members of the IEEE student branch at Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral, in Guayaquil, are developing an online digital literacy program to teach basic programming to high school students.

The educational system on the Galapagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, is not equipped to offer online classes because instructors lack computer literacy. The goal of the program is for the high school students on the Galapagos Islands to teach basic programming and digital applications virtually to others. Members of the IEEE student branch will serve as mentors and facilitators.

• Residents of the underserved community of Siddapura, in Bangalore, India, have no way to protect themselves against the coronavirus. To help them, the IEEE Bangalore Section is using a 3D printer to produce personal protection kits. The kit includes a finger protection cover [to protect wearer from exposure to the virus], a printed handy [to hold or grab items], a door opener, and an elbow-operated soap dispenser.

• Low-cost, foot-operated hand-washing systems with soap and water dispensers are being developed by the IEEE Uganda Section. The systems will be installed by IEEE members on university campuses in Uganda that have an IEEE student branch. The units will be made using locally available materials and will not require electricity. Therefore, they could also be installed in remote, off-grid communities.

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to:[email protected]

India’s Breath of Hope Volunteers Designed 7 Medical Devices for COVID-19 Patients

Post Syndicated from The Institute’s Editorial Staff original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/indias-breath-of-hope-volunteers-designed-7-medical-devices-for-covid19-patients

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Rejin Narayanan, an IEEE member from Kerala, India, was wondering how he could use his technical know-how to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. Talks with friends and colleagues quickly led Narayanan to form a volunteer group called Breath of Hope. Its 46 members have already produced seven simpler and affordable versions of existing medical devices, including a non-invasive ventilator, an oxygenation device, and a portable intubation chamber.

Narayanan, a roboticist, is the founder of the startup Ingen Robotics, also in Kerala. He is also a member of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.

“Breath of Hope started as a discussion I had with my friend and IEEE Member Dr. Praveen Pai, [of the Kerala State AIDS Control Society] on what we could do to fight COVID-19,” Narayanan says. 

We started talking about a basic respirator apparatus, and it became our first project,” he says. “Soon our friends and their friends joined, and we started working on multiple projects.

“Our volunteers come from diverse professional backgrounds including doctors, engineers from multiple disciplines, lawyers, and social workers—all of us contributing to the fight against COVID-19.”

In addition to Narayanan, there are 15 members from the IEEE Kerala Section who volunteer for Breath of Hope. The section’s five past chairs are also members of the project’s strategy group.

The Breath of Hope team began developing a low-cost ventilator design to address the dire shortage of the machines in developing countries such as India, but Narayanan says the initiative soon expanded to address other problems faced by doctors and healthcare professionals. These include the lack of medical equipment such as oxygenation devices, personal protective equipment, intubation boxes, and safe ways to collect samples.

Narayanan says the group uses digital fabrication techniques like 3D printing and laser cutting in addition to traditional methods such as milling and turning. It also uses Arduino boards for prototyping, and computational fluid dynamics simulations to improve the designs. The team has also made use of the Kochi Fablab, established by the Kerala Startup Mission, and facilities at the ICFOSS [International Centre for Free and Open Source Software], both run by the state government of Kerala.

Because of the nationwide lockdown imposed in India, he says they used locally available components and facilities.

“Most importantly, we decided to adopt the open-source model to ensure that these designs are available for anybody around the world to use, modify, and contribute back to the community,” Narayanan says.

The Institute asked Narayanan to explain how each device works and its status.

An Automated Resuscitator: The RespiratorApparatus

Ventilators are expensive and in short supply the world over. In this situation, the quickest and most widely used solution was to automate BVMs (bag valve masks). [To deliver air to a patient, BVM’s are typically hand-pumped.] The RespiratorApparatus does this by using a simple mechanism: wiper motors used in cars. The prototype runs on an Arduino, and uses sensors to determine precisely the position of the arm that presses the Ambu bag.

Unlike manual pumping of BVMs used by paramedical staff, electronic circuits and software in the RespiratorApparatus allow a good amount of control, so doctors can set an approximate tidal volume [the volume of air entering and exiting the lungs after each breath], breaths per minute, and I:E ratio that is right for the patient. [This ratio of the duration of inspiratory and expiratory phases.]

We have a prototype of the product ready and are working on an improved version with pressure and flow sensors for better results.

Oxygen Supply: The HopeFlo

HopeFlo is a high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) system that can be used to treat COVID patients. HFNC systems available in India are quite expensive and to fight a pandemic like COVID-19, we need a large number of inexpensive devices, even if only basic features are available. This is why we set out to build an affordable HFNC system.

At the heart of the system is a simple air-oxygen proportioning and blending mechanism to control two parameters: the percentage of oxygen and the flow rate.

This system can be connected to air and oxygen lines in a hospital, and used for non-invasive ventilation. Once the oxygen-air mixture is ready, it is humidified and slightly heated to maximize patient comfort. This mixture is then fed to the patient through a nasal cannula.

We use custom electronics to control the valves using stepper motors. There is a basic pressure feedback loop, which makes sure that the system is working correctly.

We have completed the design and prototyping of the proportioning and blending system. Limited tests have been done successfully. We need to add off-the-shelf components and build electronics to complete the system.

Procedure Protection: The Portable Intubation Chamber

Intubation procedures release aerosols into the air, which pose a health hazard for medical professionals. The intubation box is placed over the head of the patient, allowing the doctor to perform procedures through openings on the box. The system continuously pumps out air from inside the intubation box during medical procedures, then filters it using the HEPA filter. We have also made an optional UV filter to augment the HEPA filter.

Using the same technologies used for the PIC, we have also made a HEPA filter for closed, air-conditioned spaces. This will reduce chances of infection in offices, buses, and trains. The system currently works on 12V DC. We have successfully built the first version, and have done tests to prove that it works.

Sample Handling: SafeCollect

Collection of samples and managing related tasks in COVID-19 testing is a challenging task. Medical personnel must be protected, and the samples need to be refrigerated until they can be taken to the nearest testing center, which—in the developing world—can be far away.

The vehicle features modifications to make sure that outside air enters the cabin space only through a powered air filter. Sitting inside the vehicle, medical personnel can collect samples through a special opening that contains safety gloves. There is also a specially made box in the vehicle that contains all the necessary medical instruments needed, including a digital stethoscope. At the same time there is a specially made cavity for this box that segregates it from the cabin in an airtight manner.

The sample storage system is designed to cool the sample quickly, maintain a low temperature for an extended period of time, and provide a strong and safe enclosure to avoid cross contamination.

We have already rolled out one such modified vehicle in the district of Alleppey, and we are improving the storage system.

Personal Air-Filtering Protection: HoodofHope

HoodofHope augments regular personal protective equipment (PPE) with special headgear that uses a polypropylene filter medium to keep out aerosols. This greatly reduces the chances of infection by medical professionals exposed to dangerous levels of virus-laden aerosols for long durations while treating COVID-19 patients.

Air is forced in through a filter via a fan and pumped out through a second filter so that in case the wearer is infected, it is not passed on to others. We also integrated an off-the-shelf Bluetooth-enabled stethoscope to enable the doctor to auscultate [examine a patient by listening to sounds from a stethoscope] the patient while wearing the hood.

The HoodofHope uses a rechargeable power bank as the power source. We use DC to DC converters to power the fans.

We have done a first trial of the HoodofHope, and received encouraging feedback from doctors. Apparently, in tropical climates, the HoodofHope makes it a lot more comfortable for doctors who wear PPE.

The initial prototypes have been made and tested by doctors. Tooling has been completed, and we are preparing for volume production.

Low-cost Face Covering: ShieldofHope

ShieldofHope is a face shield for public-facing personnel to protect them from infectious droplets. This low-cost face shield uses transparency sheets as the barrier and two adjustable straps to achieve the right fit for the head. Our unique advantage is a support on top of the shield that eliminates the need to constantly adjust it. No porous materials are used so the shield can be washed and reused.

We have started mass production of the ShieldofHope, and more than 10,000 shields are already in use. This project has received recognition on social media from Kerala’s finance minister.  Airline personnel used this shield in the Vande Bharat mission to evacuate Indians from the Middle East due to the COVID-19 situation.

The HoodofHope and the ShieldofHope projects together received a “Nidhi Prayas” grant of a 1,000,000 Rupees (approximately US $13,000) through TIMed, a biomedical device incubator in the city of Thiruvananthapuram. This grant is supported by [India’s] Department of Science and Technology.

Decontamination Chamber: Door of Life

Door of Life is a portable sanitizing room for healthcare professionals who come in close contact with COVID-19 patients. It consists of three cabins. The first one is for removing the contaminated clothes, the second is to disinfect the body, and the third cabin is for changing into clean clothes.

The room will be made with a combination of plastic and galvanized iron sheets. The design is compact to install in a small space (12 feet by 4 feet) including entry and exit ways on the ground. It also includes essential filters for air and water to prevent contamination. The room also requires an electrical connection and continuous water supply.

The idea is to make it into a kit form so that several such kits can be easily transported and installed at medical facilities formed during emergencies.

Users will have a choice of cleansing methods. Once the choice is made, the intelligent controls, along with audio visual indications, will guide the user from start to finish. At the end of the process, the user can change into fresh, non-contaminated clothes— carrying their disinfected clothing in a bag, ready for washing safely at home.

The concept design is ready and partial prototyping has also been done. We are working on the design of the production version.

“We welcome engineers from across the globe to contribute to our projects,” Narayanan says. “Many of our projects can benefit from simulations and design optimizations, so it is possible to contribute remotely even though our projects are mostly hardware. Members who are interested in helping can email me.

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to: [email protected]

COVID-19’s Effect on Air Quality Can Be Seen From Space

Post Syndicated from Lynne Peskoe-Yang original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/covid19s-effect-on-air-quality-can-be-seen-from-space

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists and civilians on the ground have observed a sharp improvement in air quality, especially over quarantined regions. A likely explanation was the shutdowns in response to the pandemic, which reduced traffic and power production. But it may not have been the only explanation for the observed improvement. Weather systems can shift away pollution and improve air quality over cities. Now, a new analysis by the European Space Agency (ESA) that combined weather models, pollution measurements from ground stations, and spectral data from satellites supports the idea that the shutdowns were responsible, ruling out weather as a confounding factor.

Pandemic shutdowns have called attention to air quality issues around the world. Photo comparisons of cities before and during quarantine measures show stark reductions in visible smog, while larger regions like North America are reporting lower pollutant concentrations throughout.

Using the Copernicus Sentinel 5-Precursor (S5P), which can detect the spectral signatures of specific gases, the ESA researchers measured global nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels that were 20 percent and 75 percent lower during the shutdown period than during the same period in 2019. Locally, the impact of shutdowns on air quality varies widely and likely depends on the different progressions of the pandemic in each region.

But a decrease in measured emissions levels might not mean there has been an actual reduction in emissions. Most NO2which is emitted primarily by burning biofuels like coal, gas, and diesel—stays relatively close to its source. But this changes as the gas moves upward through the troposphere, the innermost section of Earth’s atmosphere. There, the air is in constant motion, and NO2 can be spread across large distances and between atmospheric layers.

Nitrogen dioxide that reaches the sunny upper regions of the troposphere can dissociate to form ozone (O3), another respiratory pollutant at ground level, and nitric oxide (NO), which returns to the ground level as acid rain. According to the World Health Organization, all three molecules—ozone, nitric oxide, and nitrogen dioxide—are linked to early mortality for exposed populations, in addition to worse outcomes for respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.

Tracking emissions levels by satellite comes with its own challenges. The troposphere, which is home to most weather events, can quickly turn air pollution into soil and ocean pollution—still harmful, but now invisible to satellite spectrometers.

“Air contaminants get easily transported by winds or are washed out by precipitation,” says Diego Loyola, lead researcher of the new ESA analysis and an IEEE senior member. His team at the German Aerospace Center Remote Sensing Technology Institute is monitoring the positive impact of the COVID-19 restrictions on the air quality using measurements from the European Copernicus Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite.

Falling rain absorbs the airborne pollutants and drives them to the Earth’s surface, falsely deflating the observed concentration of pollutants.

To rule out the possibility that weather might be responsible for some of the emissions decreases over Europe, Loyola and his colleagues at the center built computer models that transformed pre-COVID air pollution satellite data from 2019 using observed European weather patterns from 2020. The resulting model is a weather-adjusted simulation of nitrogen dioxide concentrations in a hypothetical 2020 where the coronavirus pandemic—or at least the shutdowns in response to it—never occurred. With the same weather conditions, the actual 2020 levels were much lower than those in the simulated no-shutdown model, confirming that the drop in manufacturing and transportation was indeed responsible for the cleaner air.


Exposure to air pollution can impact the health outcomes of people who develop the disease, Loyola says. “The study showed the positive impact of COVID-19 shutdowns on the air quality,” Loyola says. But he notes that the drop in air pollution will be temporary and that long-term emissions are still a health concern.

“There’s consensus that there’s an impact of air pollution on the severity of COVID-19 for individuals,” agrees Christa Hasenkopf, codirector of the open-access air quality data platform OpenAQ and an atmospheric scientist.

While the sudden decrease in air pollution may ease the suffering of those infected with the novel coronavirus, Hasenkopf says, the illness is especially harmful on those with the same type of chronic respiratory and cardiovascular conditions that result from long-term exposure to pollution.

The WHO estimates that 90 percent of people worldwide breathe polluted air, with the bulk of pollution affecting lower-income countries. These disparities could point researchers to where resources are most needed, Hasenkopf says.

“We’re asking, ‘How does air pollution affect folks with COVID-19, and how does that help us prioritize areas that may experience more severe outbreaks?’”

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to: [email protected]

This App Could Help Detect COVID-19 By Analyzing A Person’s Speech

Post Syndicated from MOHAMMED USMAN original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/this-app-could-help-detect-covid19-by-analyzing-a-persons-speech

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE A major challenge in containing the spread of COVID-19 is that its symptoms may not be conspicuous until a few days after an individual gets infected. During that time, a person could unwittingly be spreading the virus.

In the absence of a treatment vaccine or cure, early detection of symptoms is vital to cut down on the transmission. Based on existing literature and our ongoing research, there is strong evidence that COVID-19 symptoms could be detected from human speech, by applying signal processing techniques and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms.

Speech contains inherent information about the physical, physiological, psychological, and emotional status of the speaker. Any variation in any of these is reflected in the person’s speech. It generally isn’t hard for a person to detect when someone is tired, happy, sad, angry, or sick just by listening to them speak.

Using signal processing and AI, finer variations in speech characteristics, which may not even be perceived by the listener or the speaker, can be detected and used for diagnostic purposes. For example, Mayo Clinic has been working on vocal biomarkers to diagnose health conditions such as heart disease. Dr. Charles Marmar, a psychiatrist at NYU Langone Health, has been investigating the possibility of diagnosing psychiatric disorders from speech samples. Sonde Health, a tech firm in Boston, is considering using voice tests to diagnose aging-related diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s.

We are developing an app that can analyze an individual’s speech to detect COVID-19 symptoms so that the person can be quarantined, tested, and provided with medical support at a much earlier stage. The app will have the AI model incorporated so that people can regularly monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms. Our proposed diagnostic method using speech is only meant for initial screening and flagging of suspected COVID-19 positive individuals. [It is meant] to complement existing clinical diagnostic procedures, not replace them.


While COVID-19 symptoms may not be conspicuous to the affected individual or others, they will cause subtle variations to speech characteristics that can be detected by artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms. That’s because infected individuals undergo changes to body parameters such as temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. All of these affect the physiology of speech and are reflected in speech signals.

To train, validate, and optimize AI models, we will use a dataset comprised of speech recordings and body parameter measurements collected from a test population of hundreds of people. The dataset will include samples from healthy and asymptomatic individuals, as well as COVID-19 patients.

We are currently working with various hospitals and medical centers in India and Saudi Arabia to collect data, subject to approvals with regard to data-protection requirements. While we have already started collecting data for healthy individuals, we expect that by mid-July to have all formalities completed to collect data from symptomatic individuals as well as confirmed COVID-19 patients. Once the data-protection approvals and agreements are finalized, data collection would be an ongoing process.


Two types of speech recordings will be collected: a complete sentence and a set of vowel sounds sustained for a few seconds, such as aaa or eee, to capture the finer details of the human voice box.

The recordings, along with body parameters measured at the same time using conventional biomedical devices, will be used to train the AI algorithms. Identity and personal details of the participating volunteers will be kept confidential. The only identifying information will be their age and gender. As variations are expected across age groups and genders, this information is necessary to understand those differences and incorporate them into the AI algorithms.


Using signal processing techniques such as filtering and voice activity detection, the recorded speech signal, which is in a digital format, will be preprocessed to remove unwanted components and background noise. The preprocessed speech signal will be further refined using feature extraction algorithms to extract traits that characterize the speech signal. These features are applied as input to AI algorithms, which recognize a pattern or some intrinsic parameter associated with that pattern.

During the training phase of AI models, speech as well as the measured body parameter will be used as input to the AI algorithms. Each body parameter is associated with a different characteristic or pattern within signal-processed speech. Heart rate, for example, is reflected in certain frequency features (the Mel Frequency Cepstral Coefficients). As a result, a separate model for each measured body parameter needs to be developed. We plan to use 80 percent of the samples in the dataset for training purposes and the remaining 20 percent for testing, validating, and optimizing the AI algorithms. Body temperature, blood pressure, and other parameters (not to mention speech characteristics) vary between healthy people.

This is precisely the reason why we need a lot of samples from individuals in each category—healthy, symptomatic, and COVID-19 patients. With a large number of samples, individual variations within each category can, in a sense, be averaged out to get a more accurate AI model. The validation will be done by comparing the diagnosis of the AI model with the clinical diagnosis corresponding to the collected data.

The validated and tested AI models will then be deployed for field testing in collaboration with healthcare agencies. A large-scale deployment is possible by incorporating the AI models into an app.


One of the main challenges we face in this project is data collection. Getting access to COVID-19 patients or even symptomatic individuals to collect their data is difficult as it involves several procedures related to approvals, agreements, and precautions.

Secondly, not all patients might be willing to share their samples.

Another is ensuring that false positives are minimized. Too many false positives (or false alarms) can cause unnecessary panic and distress in people and can also lead to chaotic scenarios, such as people rushing to their nearest healthcare centers and overwhelming them.

Of course, false negatives also have to be minimized. Too many false negatives simply mean the app doesn’t detect COVID-19 symptoms. The objective is to have an app that detects COVID-19 symptoms with high accuracy, while minimizing false positives.

AI algorithms can be trained and tuned to deliver high accuracy but they are not 100 percent accurate. Therefore, it important to convey the error-performance metrics of the algorithms to users.


If successful, we think our proposed method could have broad applications in areas such as medical diagnosis and patient monitoring and care. Speech can be used to monitor the psychological and emotional effects the pandemic is having on individuals resulting from lockdowns, the death of loved ones, and the loss of jobs and income.

Mohammed Usman, Mohd Wajid and Mohammed Zubair are all IEEE senior members. Usman and Zubair are assistant and associate professors, respectively, of electrical engineering at King Khalid University in Abha, Saudi Arabia. Wajid is an assistant professor of electronics engineering at Aligarh Muslim University in India. Ahmed is a physician and internist with Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, in Blackpool, Lancashire, U.K.

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to: [email protected]

Infrared Device Helps Monitor COVID-19 Patients’ Breathing Therapy

Post Syndicated from The Institute’s Editorial Staff original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/infrared-device-helps-monitor-covid19-patients-breathing-therapy

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE In severe cases of COVID-19, the virus causes respiratory distress, making it difficult for patients to breathe. Pulmonary therapy, such as deep breathing exercises, can help prevent severe respiratory complications, according to the American Lung Association.

The Advanced Internet Technologies in the Interests of Society Laboratory—a research lab at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif., has developed InSee, an auxiliary device that attaches to an incentive spirometer. Incentive spirometers are medical devices that are used to help patients improve the functioning of their lungs by measuring the patients’ air volume as they inhale and exhale into the device. InSee can also remind patients to use the spirometer, monitor how often they use it, and record how well they perform.

IEEE Member Farid Farahmand is the director of the lab, which develops Internet-based technology solutions for educational, environmental, and healthcare problems.

The Institute asked Farahmand about InSee.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What problem are you trying to solve?

COVID-19 patients are often bedbound, which limits their daily movement and often results in minimal lung expansion. This can lead to severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and mechanical ventilation, which may result in the death of the patient.

Incentive spirometry is a standard practice in postoperative care and has been proven to help patients improve their lung function, but its main drawback is patient compliance. Healthcare providers train patients how to use the device, but they are not able to monitor the patients’ progress.

What technologies are you using?

InSee uses an infrared sensor, which monitors the movement of the spirometer’s internal cylinder [Editor’s note: the cylinder contains a piston whose movement measures the volume of air that is inhaled]. Using time-of-flight calculations, cylinder movement is converted to tidal volume, which is the volume of air moved with each breath and a key marker of respiratory function.

The data the device collects is stored and accessed remotely on a computer through WiFi.

Explain how your project works.

Using InSee, a doctor sets a target tidal volume for the patient before use. While sitting upright, the patient puts the mouthpiece [of the incentive spirometer] in his mouth and closes his lips tightly around it. He slowly exhales and inhales as deeply as he can. The patient must breathe through his mouth or else the device won’t work.

[The incentive spirometer contains two chambers. The first, located in the center of the device, measures the volume of the patient’s breath. As the patient inhales, a piston moves along a numbered grid, marking the air volume. A second chamber beside the first measures the speed of the patient’s breath.]

As the patient uses the device, InSee measures the tidal volume and determines how many times a patient failed to reach the target tidal volume. It also determines the maximum tidal volume the patient was able to reach and how long it took the patient to reach a specific tidal volume.

Using a red blinking light, InSee automatically reminds the patient to use the device at the frequency set by the doctor. The only way to shut off the light is by using the spirometer and reaching the target tidal volume.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

Packaging the device was very challenging. There is a wide variety of disposable incentive spirometers available to medical facilities. We designed InSee to fit those that are most often used in hospitals, such as the Vytaire Medical AirLife Volumetric Incentive Spirometer. This allows InSee to easily and readily fit a variety of low-cost disposable incentive spirometer without any modifications.

What is the potential impact of the technology?

By adding InSee to existing incentive spirometers, hospitals will be able to record, monitor, and evaluate patient’s respiratory exercises as well as remind and encourage the patient to use the device if InSee detects a low level of activity.

This will also minimize contact between patients and providers and reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus.

How close are you to the final product?

We were granted a U.S. patent in April and hope to receive funding soon so we can build 200 units and begin clinical trials. Trials will take place at HCA Gulf Coast Hospital in Houston and Houston Methodist Hospital, pending approval from the Institutional Review Board.

How can other IEEE members get involved?

Members who are interested in helping us improve the electrical and mechanical design of our device can email me.

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to: [email protected]

Harvey C. Nathanson, Inventor of the First MEMS Device, Dies at 83

Post Syndicated from The Institute’s Editorial Staff original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/harvey-c-nathanson-inventor-of-the-first-mems-device-dies-at-83

Harvey C. Nathanson

Microelectromechanical systems pioneer

Life Fellow, 83; died 22 November

Nathanson invented the first MEMS device, a tuner for microelectronic radios, in 1965 while working as an engineer at Westinghouse Research Labs in Pittsburgh.

While developing similar devices, Nathanson pioneered a method of batch fabrication in which layers of insulators and metal on silicon wafers are shaped and undercut through the use of masks and sacrificial layers. The process would become a mainstay of MEMS manufacturing.

Nathanson was granted a patent in 1973 for the use of millions of microscopically small moving mirrors to create a video display of the type now found in digital projectors.

Later in his career, he was involved in the development of monolithic microwave integrated circuits in gallium arsenide for airborne radar applications, concepts for atomic clocks, integrated circuits on coiled (curved) substrates and electronic system cooling ideas. He held more than 50 patents in the field of solid-state electronics.

He was promoted in 1988 to chief scientist at the Westinghouse Science and Technology Center, also in Pittsburgh. After his retirement in 2001, he consulted for Northrup Grumman in Baltimore.

He received a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon.

Stanley L. “Larry” Pipkin

Electrical design engineer

Life senior member, 65; died 9 November

Pipkin was an electrical engineer who designed power structures for buildings and large-scale projects. He was the lead electrical design engineer and then on-site engineer during construction of the U.S. Navy’s Point Loma fuel farm near San Diego.

He worked for several engineering concerns including Pullman Kellogg, Tellepsen, and Honeywell’s United Oil Products division.

Pipkin received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Rice University, in Houston.

Andrew John Lyke

Electrical engineering professor

Life member, 53; died 19 December

When Lyke served in the U.S. Army, he was stationed in the United States and Germany. After leaving the military, he was hired as an engineering professor at Southern Polytechnic State University, now part of Kennesaw State University, in Marietta, Ga., where he taught until he retired.

He enjoyed working on locomotives, household appliances, and ceramic computer parts. He was a beekeeper for his local gardening club, Toledo Grows, and he volunteered with the ManKind Project, an international association that assists men with their personal development.

Lyke received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Cornell. He later earned a master’s degree in business from Emory University, in Atlanta.

Mario Refice

Computer scientist

Life member, 78; died 20 December

Refice conducted research on experimental-systems automation, software engineering, and computer-assisted instruction. He was the principal investigator for several European-funded research projects involving speech and language processing and human-machine interaction.

He received a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1967 at the University of Bari Aldo Moro, in Italy. After graduating, he worked as a technician in the university’s high-energy physics laboratory.

He left in 1970 to join Centro Studi e Applicazioni Tecnologie Avanzate, a research consortium in Bari. At the time, he was also a visiting researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and Stanford. While at Stanford, he collaborated with other researchers to adapt the TENEX operating system to the Digital Equipment Corp.’s PDP-10 computer.

In 1981 he began teaching advanced courses in computer science for the UNESCO Intergovernmental Bureau of Informatics in Ghana, Guinea, and other countries. He also was a scientific consultant for the Royal Scientific Society, in Amman, Jordan.

He took a permanent position in 1985 as an associate professor of computer science at the University of Bari Aldo Moro.

He left in 1991 to join the Polytechnic University of Bari, where he taught undergraduate and graduate courses in computer science. Even after his retirement in 2011, he taught and conducted research projects at both Bari universities.

Herbert Bernhardt Voelcker Jr.

Research engineer and EE professor

Life Fellow, 90; died 23 January

After graduating from MIT in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Voelcker applied to the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He served as a signal officer in the 82nd Airborne Division for two years. Then he returned to MIT, where in 1954 he earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering.

The following year he began working as a research engineer at the Army’s Signal Labs in Fort Monmouth, N.J. He joined the Army Rifle team, which traveled to Melbourne, Australia, to represent the United States in the 1956 Olympic Games.

In 1958 he received a two-year Fulbright fellowship, which enabled him to study at the Imperial College in London, where in 1961 he earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.

After returning to the United States, he became an assistant professor of electrical engineering at the University of Rochester, in New York state. In 1972 he founded the Production Automation Project, a research team at the university. Under his leadership, the team developed mathematical foundations and core algorithms for solid modeling—the enabling technology for modern mechanical computer-aided design.

In 1985 Voeckler became head of a new directorate for advanced manufacturing technologies at the National Science Foundation, in Washington. Less than a year later, the NSF went through a reorganization and Voeckler lost his position.

He became an EE professor at Cornell, retired in 2000, and was named professor emeritus.

Eric Sacher

Founder of Serendipity Systems

Life member, 80; died 30 January

During World War II, Sacher, who was a Russian refugee living in Shanghai, immigrated to Seattle with his family and joined the U.S. Air National Guard.

Sacher was a self-taught computer engineer who got his start fixing cash registers for software company NCR. While working there, he was granted three U.S. patents for his printed circuit board fault detection and isolation technology.

Sacher went on to work as a manager in the marketing department of Cirrus Computers and Genrad Designs in Phoenix. In 1984 he founded Serendipity Systems, a software company, in Sedona, Ariz.

In his spare time, he loved to ski and fly model airplanes, and he was a ham radio enthusiast.

Walter Kurt Kahn

EE professor

Fellow, 90; died 31 January

Kahn was born in Mannheim, Germany, and in 1938, he and his family fled to New York to avoid the Nazis.

He received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Cooper Union in New York. After earning his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, in New York, now the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Kahn joined Wheeler Labs.

His teaching career began at the Polytechnic Institute, where he taught electrical engineering. He spent a year at the Office of Naval Research in London, then joined the faculty of George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., where he taught electrical engineering until he retired. While at the university, Kahn was chairman of the EE department and held a seat on the faculty senate.

He authored more than 100 papers in the fields of electromagnetics, microwave components, antennas, and optics. He served in several editorial roles with IEEE publications and was a longtime consultant for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.

Robert Douglas McLaren

Chemical and nuclear engineer

Life Fellow, 83; died 17 March

McLaren worked as a chemical and nuclear engineer for the U.S. Air Force for 23 years, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He then became an engineering consultant. He worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and Kaman.

McLaren pursued his interest in his Scottish heritage and became a genealogist for the Clan MacLaren Society of North America and the Clan MacLaren Society of Scotland. They promote the history, arts, and tradition of Scotland and of the MacLaren clan.

He received a bachelor’s degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. He earned a master’s degree through the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

James Stewart McLeod

Communications engineer

Life senior member, 94; died 15 April

While McLeod was attending Meridian High School in Washington, he taught himself Morse code so he could apply to the U.S. Army Signal Corps. It was the beginning of his career in communications technology.

He joined the Signal Corps after graduating high school. During World War II, he was stationed in Oahu, Hawaii, where he ran the Army’s telephone system. After leaving the military, he enrolled at Washington State University in Pullman.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1948 he joined the Bonneville Power Administration, in Portland, Ore., as an engineer.

He left the nonprofit to join startup Page Communications Engineers, also in Portland. He was a project manager there who worked on federal, state, and defense communications infrastructure projects.

During McLeod’s time at Page, he was promoted to senior vice president of engineering and led projects in Hawaii, Maryland, and Virginia.

Irving Engelson

Former managing director of IEEE Corporate and Technical Activities

Life Fellow, 90; died 21 April

Engelson was an active volunteer. He became a member of the IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society almost 40 years ago. He served as chairman of the society’s Strategic Planning Task Force, was a member of the board of governors, and was vice president of the long-range planning committee.

He also was an IEEE employee. He was managing director of the Corporate Activities and Technical Activities groups—a staff position. He also served on the IEEE Board of Directors, both as division and region director. He was elected IEEE parliamentarian, and he is the only person to have held the position of IEEE presidential advisor.

Before working for IEEE, Engelson held senior executive positions at RCA in Camden, N.J. He also was an electrical engineering professor at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, in Newark. He was a National Science Foundation faculty research Fellow at the Princeton Neuropsychiatric Institute, in New Jersey.

Engelson received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, now the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. He earned a master’s degree in EE from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and a Ph.D. in EE from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachusetts.

Thomas Huang

Kilby Medal recipient

Life Fellow, 83; died 25 April

Huang was a renowned electrical and computer engineering professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. During his teaching career, he was the adviser for more than 100 Ph.D. candidates.

He was a research pioneer and received the 2001 IEEE Jack S. Kilby Signal Processing Medal for his contributions to imaging and image processing, including helping to create sequencing processes with wide-ranging applications.

He began his teaching career as an engineering professor at MIT, where he taught from 1963 to 1973, and went on to teach engineering at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind.

He left Purdue in 1980 to join the University of Illinois as an electrical and computer engineering professor. He was also a research professor at the university’s Coordinated Science Laboratory and was one of the first faculty members at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, in Urbana.

After Huang retired from teaching in 2014, he continued his research in information technology, in particular the transmission and processing of multidimensional signals. He published 21 books and wrote more than 600 articles on network theory, digital filtering, image processing, and computer vision. In recent years, his research focused on human-computer interfaces, multimedia databases, and face and gesture recognition for video applications.

He received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the National Taiwan University, in Taipei. After immigrating to the United States in 1958, he earned a master’s degree and doctorate in EE from MIT.

IEEE Smart Village System Delivers Solar Power to Nigerian COVID-19 Isolation Center

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/ieee-smart-village-system-delivers-solar-power-to-nigerian-covid19-isolation-center

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE When the coronavirus spread to Illorin, the state capital of Kwara in western Nigeria, a medical center was built to isolate and treat the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 patients. But like other communities in the country, the facility had limited access to electricity.

That was until Shaybis Nigeria donated a SunBlazer IV solar-powered system. The system, which was designed by IEEE Smart Village volunteers, will provide electricity to the first wing of the four-wing facility. Shaybis Nigeria, also based in Illorin, is one of three international manufacturers of the SunBlazer system. The company has been providing solar-power microgrids throughout the country for the past three years.

“These beds will be used to treat and provide care for those infected with the coronavirus to help avoid spreading it to others,” says Chief Tunde Salihu, the company’s CEO and an IEEE senior member. “The solar-powered system will enable the medical team to power ventilators, monitoring machines, and sanitation equipment.”

The facility was formally commissioned by the government in May. Since the installation, Salihu reports his company has been retained by the government to provide electricity for a number of doctor’s offices and other medical facilities.


A team of IEEE Power & Energy Society volunteers, as well as industry professionals, designed and developed the original SunBlazer to help Haiti after the country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. After feedback from field deployments, the system was enhanced over the years into a modular, adaptable configuration to flexibly meet the needs of each individual installation. Each base unit has six 300-watt solar panels that provide 1,800 watts total to charge portable battery kits, which can generate enough power to light rooms for several days. The unit has AC and DC outputs, which can charge cellphones and run small appliances. The SunBlazer IV can be assembled and expanded as needed.


IEEE Smart Village partners with entrepreneurs, such as Salihu, in underserved areas to set up microutilities, bringing electricity to thousands while also creating jobs in the community. IEEE Smart Village is one of the donor-supported priority initiatives of the IEEE Foundation.

For the past few years, the IEEE Smart Village program and IEEE members in Nigeria have been working to bring electricity to that country’s remote villages, including those in the state of Kwara. Salihu led the local team there. He is a leading solar power engineer in the country, with more than 30 years of experience in the field of electrical engineering. Salihu is also the former chair of the IEEE Nigeria Section.

Salihu formed his startup in 2015 to provide stand-alone power systems for homes and offices throughout Kwara and nearby villages. He is an advocate for sustainable, community development.

This Open-Source Robot Is Helping Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients Stay in Touch With Loved Ones

Post Syndicated from The Institute’s Editorial Staff original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/this-opensource-robot-is-helping-hospitalized-covid19-patients-stay-in-touch-with-loved-ones

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Hospitalized COVID-19 patients are often left to battle the virus alone to help stop the spread of the virus to their family and friends. To assist with this difficult situation, IEEE Fellow Antonio Bicchi, a member of an Italian research team called Low-Hanging Fruits, has developed a robot called LHF-Connect. Bicchi is a robotics professor at the University of Pisa as well as a senior scientist at the Italian Institute of Technology, also in Pisa.

LHF was launched under the TechForCare initiative, a collaboration between the Italian Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines and Maker Faire Rome, an organization that holds events for inventors. The TechForCare initiative brings together academic and industry engineering experts to develop technology that could help combat COVID-19.

The Instituteasked Bicchi about the project.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What problem are you trying to solve?

Patients are not allowed to see their families while they are being treated in the hospital so we developed an open source and affordable robot that anyone can build.

What technologies are you using?

The robot uses commercially available parts such as a pedestal and a base, which is a modified version of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. The pedestal is where up to two mobile devices, such as a smartphone or tablet, can be placed.

The robot costs about US $1,086 to build.

The software that allows the operator to control the robot remotely was developed by engineers from the Italian Institute of Technology and the University of Pisa. iRobot, which makes Roomba, granted our project free access to its software libraries. The team was able to modify the software, making it possible to control LHF-Connect’s movements.

Explain how your project works.

The hospital’s administrative staff helps patients schedule when they want to make a call to their families or friends. At the appointed time, a human operator—who is located away from the patient—uses a computer to drive LHF-Connect to the patient’s bedside. Using three-way calling, the robot’s operator calls the family member or friend using the mobile device, which is located on the pedestal. The operator steps out of the control room while the patient is speaking with his family to give them privacy.

What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Designing a robot that is easy and affordable to build in a short period of time. Currently, five LHF-Connect robots have been built by other engineers around the world.

Unreliable Wi-Fi connectivity inside hospitals was another challenge so we had to develop very robust communication protocols. While the robot travels across the hospital, it switches from access point to access point.

What is the potential impact of the technology?

It also can be used to carry out remote consultations with medical professionals via mobile devices to help stop the spread of disease.

In addition, LHF-Connect has the potential to be used for telemedicine for other medical conditions.

How close are you to the final product?

The robot is being used at several hospitals and medical facilities in Italy. They include the University of Pisa’s hospital, Azienda Ospedaliero-Universitaria Pisana; the intensive care units at the hospitals in Massa and Carrara; and the Azienda Speciale Asfarm Retirement and Assisted Living Facility in Induno Olona.

We are currently upgrading the software and giving the robot the ability to physically interact with the environment. For example, the robot currently doesn’t have arms to open doors therefore, if a door is closed, a nurse has to open it for the robot to pass through.

How many people are involved, and how many IEEE members are involved?

The core technical group consists of 18 people who are affiliated with the Italian Institute of Technology or with the University of Pisa. Many of them are members of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society.

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to:[email protected]

IEEE President’s Column: Strength and Solidarity in Responding to the Challenges of COVID-19

Post Syndicated from Toshio Fukuda original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/ieee-presidents-column-strength-and-solidarity-in-responding-to-the-challenges-of-covid19

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Over the past several months, our international community has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, a global health crisis that has impacted many members of the IEEE family. During this evolving public health situation, our most important priority has been the safety and well-being of our members, volunteers, and staff.

First and foremost, I want to thank you for your continued support of IEEE. As a professional technical and scientific organization, we are a community of researchers, technologists, and scientists on the front lines of global research, innovation, and medical infrastructure. Many of our members are directly or indirectly engaged in the fight against this disease, supporting biomedical research and applications, supporting data analysis and modeling, maintaining critical communications and power infrastructure, and caring for each other.

Thank you for your leadership, expertise, and efforts in helping to support communities throughout the world through this public health crisis.

Given the global geographic reach of the virus, its significant individual and personal impact, and the deep economic disruption it has caused, there probably is not a single IEEE member, program, or activity that has not been touched by it. Despite the pandemic’s challenges, IEEE continues to support our members and to execute our mission to advance technology for the benefit of humanity.

To protect the safety, health, and well-being of our members, volunteers, and staff, IEEE moved to postpone or cancel face-to-face meetings and events and quickly set up online or virtual alternatives. We have supported distancing measures and travel restrictions intended to slow the spread of the pandemic and relieve peak demand on medical systems.

Throughout this period and despite obstacles, IEEE operations have continued. IEEE publications continue to accept, review, and publish submissions and publish impactful cutting-edge research. Our online publications remain available to researchers and students around the world. IEEE standards development continues as well, using online collaboration to replace in-person working-group meetings.

To help researchers understand, manage, and combat the pandemic, IEEE is providing free, direct access through the IEEE Xplore Digital Library to a collection of COVID-19 research articles and standards. Our educational activities continue to offer online instruction, and IEEE’s preuniversity educational resources continue to assist students whose classroom activities have been disrupted.

IEEE teams worked to develop innovative and engaging event formats to replace conferences and meetings that allowed audiences to connect and interact online.

Throughout these challenging times, our members and volunteers around the world have remained focused and committed to IEEE’s mission.

With many IEEE office buildings closed in accordance with local guidelines, IEEE professional staff transitioned to remote-work schedules. I would like to share my appreciation for the way the team supported our mission while working from home and creatively addressed the challenges of coordinating activities across our distributed teams.


It has been interesting to see emerging technology play a major role in the response to the pandemic. Technology companies, big and small, pivoted to join the fight against the coronavirus and to fast-track efforts to help entrepreneurs develop technologies to address the pandemic. University researchers and their students also played key roles in analysis and response.

In addition to biomedical technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics have become indispensable resources in the fight. Deep-learning models are being used to assess existing and new drugs that might aid in successfully treating COVID-19. Hospitals have deployed AI tools to help detect COVID-19 on chest scans, and use deep-learning algorithms to diagnose, triage, and monitor coronavirus cases from lung images.

This healthcare crisis is driving new developments in robotics after seeing the successful usage of robots in the battle against COVID-19.

Robots can perform repetitive chores such as delivering supplies to medical staff, freeing hospital workers to do more important tasks. Robots are taking on dangerous and dirty jobs, including handling nasopharyngeal sampling swabs and decontaminating medical equipment and facilities. Robotic vehicles are being deployed to support contactless deliveries amid quarantines.

I am proud of the work that all the members of our IEEE community have been doing in response to the uniquely challenging circumstances we now face. I extend my heartfelt thanks to every member of this community for your understanding, flexibility, and strength in these taxing times. I am confident that when we work together, no challenge is too great for us to overcome.

As the global community continues to grapple with COVID-19 and its far-reaching implications, and as we begin to look beyond the pandemic, be assured that IEEE will continue to support our imperative to learn, connect, inform, and advance the technical state of the art.

Recent events highlight the essential role of science and technology and the crucial need for knowledge, innovation, and application across academic, public, and private sectors. Thank you for being a valued IEEE member.

Share your thoughts with me at [email protected].

This article appears in the June 2020 print issue as “Strength and Solidarity in Responding to the Challenges of COVID-19.”

The University of Rhode Island’s IEEE Student Branch Offers Remote Tutoring to EE Students to Supplement Their Online Courses

Post Syndicated from Joanna Goodrich original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/the-university-of-rhode-islands-ieee-student-branch-offers-remote-tutoring-to-ee-students-to-supplement-their-online-courses

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE The COVID-19 pandemic has forced universities around the world to close their campuses and offer classes online. Faculty members and students have had to adjust to this new way of teaching and learning. To help with this transition at the University of Rhode Island (URI) in South Kingstown, members of the IEEE Providence Section Student Branch are offering remote tutoring to their classmates.

Faculty members are now spending more time preparing handouts, presentations, and tests for class and have less time to interact with students, said IEEE Member Peter Swaszek, the university’s associate dean of Academic Affairs, in a news release about the tutoring program.

“Students can’t just wander into a professor’s office or converse with friends while leaving class. Faculty and students lost that connection in the sudden transition to online learning,” he said.

The remote tutoring sessions, which are conducted through the Webex video conferencing program, offer students the chance to not only ask questions about the material presented in class but also gives them a way to socialize with each other.


The IEEE student branch has been offering in-person tutoring sessions to the university’s EE students for the past few years but, now that the campus is closed, the tutors had to change the way they offered their services, according to the news release.

“These are challenging classes that have been made more challenging by the fact that they are not in person,” said IEEE Student Member Nicholas Amore, president of the IEEE student branch. “Adding remote study sessions provides students with more opportunities to reinforce concepts or clarify issues.”

The response to the IEEE student branch’s online tutoring sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Amore. The tutors had to set up an additional room in Webex to accommodate the number of students who signed up.

Having two rooms allowed for smaller groups, which gave tutors the ability to answer more questions, said IEEE Student Member Robin Hall, a member of the student branch, in the news release.

 In addition to helping students understand the material, the sessions also allow them to socialize with each other during a time of social distancing.

“It’s important for students to still connect and maintain a semblance of normalcy during these times,” Amore said. “The barrage of news [about the pandemic] and changes to schedules can be anxiety-inducing. Some of that anxiety can be alleviated by keeping a schedule similar to what we had when we were all still on campus.”

The tutors have also started recording tutorials as a way to supplement their live sessions.

“We are releasing basic tutorials on such subjects as LTspice, a free software that simulates circuits,” Amore said. “The tutorials will help students check homework answers and allow them to visualize what certain circuit topologies do, which is beneficial because they don’t have access to a lab.”

DIY Ventilators for COVID-19 Could Be a Vital Stopgap

Post Syndicated from Ravinder Dahiya original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/diy-ventilators-for-covid19-could-be-a-vital-stopgap

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE COVID-19 patients can find it difficult to breathe as the virus infects the upper or lower parts of their respiratory tract. Severe cases result in oedema—a build-up of fluid—and gas exchange failure in the alveoli, the small air-containing spaces in the lungs that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules with the bloodstream.

Respiration being an absolute requirement for life, it is not surprising that the mechanical ventilators found in intensive care units have been in great demand during the past few months. These devices use a mobile compressor to assist with the patient’s breathing by pushing air through a tube placed in the trachea to expand the lungs.

The need for mechanical ventilators has far outpaced the number available. There are many efforts to address the supply shortage. For example, some car companies, such as General Motors, have adapted existing designs of ventilation equipment and are manufacturing them at their facilities. Established ventilator manufacturers have increased production while also making some of their designs freely available so that others can reproduce them.

While these endeavors aim to produce ventilators that are closer to the current standard medical equipment used in ICUs, we are also seeing a wave of interim DIY devices being developed to increase the supply. These rapidly scalable, low-cost emergency ventilators (EVs) are mainly the automated version of manual bag-based resuscitator devices, commonly known as Ambu bags or bag valve masks (BVMs).

These small, compact, balloon-like bags have a soft air reservoir that can be squeezed by medical professionals to inflate a patient’s lungs. Oxygen is administered via tubing to this bag. Exhalation occurs due to elastic recoil of the patient’s chest, and the bag resumes its original shape. BVMs can theoretically support a patient indefinitely, but in reality, it is a temporary measure as manual compression is tedious and lacks good control.

The DIY emergency ventilators address this issue by automating the squeezing of the bag. They are open-source and typically built using off-the-shelf parts, widely available materials, and simple fabrication and assembly techniques. A few examples include MIT’s E-Vent,  Oxford University and King’s College London’s OxVent and University of Glasgow’s GlasVent.

Almost all use a motor or air compressor to squeeze the BVM. The motor’s speed and the air compressor speed controls the breathing rate, and the plunger controls the level of BVM compression. The amount of compression determines the tidal volume—the volume of air entering and exiting the lungs after each breath.

The attributes of these initiatives are their fast deployment, scalability, simple assembly, compact size, and low cost. The devices are meant to be used only for short periods of time—up to a few hours. The GlasVent offers an additional feature of being able to be operated manually by someone with little to no medical experience.

These EVs offer some of the same features as mechanical ventilators and could be quite useful in emergency situations where the availability and cost of standard ones is limiting. The cost per mechanical ventilator averages anywhere from US $20,000 to $100,000, which by no means makes it a cheap intervention. On other hand, the cost of EVs could range from $100 to $1,000.

In addition, because they can be powered through the main supply, batteries, or manually in the case of GlasVent, EVs can be used during power outages. Also, their compact size allows them to be used in ambulances, medical transportation vans, and even in cars.

 Even though they may seem relatively simple from an engineering perspective, designing a ventilator that can be used safely and reliably to help a person breathe is a significant challenge. To help those who intend to develop DIY EVs, it’s important to know some fundamentals.


Ventilators are designed around a few fundamental respiration parameters, including tidal volume (air volume entering and exiting the lungs each breath), airway pressure, and the respiratory rate. The control of airway pressure is important as excessive volumes or pressures can stretch lung tissue, causing barotrauma injury.

There are four distinct measures of airway pressure during a typical ventilation breathing cycle [right]. Positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) helps the ventilator maintain air in the lungs at the end of a breath, preventing the collapse of alveoli and, at higher levels, improving gas exchanged. Peak inspiratory pressure is the maximum airway pressure during inspiration. Plateau pressure represents the pressure in the alveoli at some particular phase of breathing and is often used as a gauge to determine the maximum pressure that can be applied. Driving pressure is the plateau airway pressure minus PEEP. It can also be expressed as the ratio of tidal volume to respiratory system compliance, indicating the decreased functional size of the lung observed in patients.

These measures of airway pressure provide the extremes of both inspiration and expiration.

The respiratory rate (number of breaths per minute) is another important parameter. It is commonly around 16–20, each breath lasting approximately three to four seconds, but may need to be increased to 30-50 in extreme cases such as COVID-19, where gas exchange is compromised.


There are many ways to supply ventilation to a patient. Depending on the patient’s breathing efforts and sedation and the pressure or volume control, the ventilation can control the breathing entirely or just provide additional assistance.

Optimal ventilator parameters vary between patients and can change for each patient during the course of a disease. When patients begin breathing more independently on their own, the ventilator’s parameters must be adjusted so the machine doesn’t continue to push air into the lungs at the same rate.

For these reasons, operating mechanical ventilators can be complex for anyone with a non-clinical background. Clearly, there is need for trained professionals, which typically includes intensive care physicians, anesthesiologists, intensive care nurses, and respiratory therapists. Some training for EVs is needed too, even if they are only used to provide basic control over the pressure and volume of air in the lungs.

Typically, putting a patient on a mechanical ventilator requires the insertion of a laryngeal mask, endotracheal tube, or tracheostomy. Such forms of invasive ventilation require a patient to be sedated, which can lead to complications such as blood clotting and the need for dialysis.

Ventilation can also be accomplished non-invasively, using an airtight face mask, but it carries other risks, such as blowing air into the stomach, poor airflow, and the possibility that fluid or solid particles might end up in the windpipe or lungs. For these reasons, noninvasive ventilation is not recommended with mechanical ventilators other than for short-term assistance in the form of mild PEEP in a conscious patient.

It may be more suitable for EVs because they are meant to complement mechanical ventilators for a short period.

These same risks apply in the case of EVs, but they are intended mainly provide noninvasive ventilation and are to be used for a short period of time, up to 100 hours. This buys the COVID-19 patients with temporary breathing issue some time. Often, their immune system successfully fights the virus. 


Using an Ambu bag as the backbone of a DIY EV has several merits. Such manual resuscitators are widely available, and most hospitals have them in stock. They have already been tested and certified for medical use, making them suitable for sterilization. The bags are also compatible with a variety of equipment, such as masks, valves, intubation equipment, filters, and oxygen supply.

Some BVMs come with safety features, such as pop-off valves, therefore simplifying the rest of the design. One drawback of using BVMs to meet COVID-19 needs is the risk of aerosolizing the virus, because exhaled air is not collected.

EVs must receive regulatory approval from agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before they can be deployed.

But once approved, they could potentially be used beyond just mitigating the current COVID-19-related supply shortage. EVs could ultimately become a household medical device, like the pulse oximeter. Many people with a variety of medication conditions use this chip-clip-like device on their finger to check their blood oxygen level and heart rate.

With training from a medical professional, patients with asthma could use such small, portable ventilators for breathing treatments to open up blockages in small air passages. EVs also offer an attractive and affordable alternative in many resource-poor settings. In low- and middle-income countries that lack costly mechanical ventilators, an EV may be a patient’s only option. Given this, basic EVs, at much lower costs, can make a huge difference in people’s lives.

Ravinder Dahiya is an IEEE Fellow and a professor of electronics and nanoengineering with the Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies group at the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, in the United Kingdom. Dahiya is also the president-elect for the IEEE Sensors Council. Andrew Hart is a hand and plastic surgeon at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Meet COBO, a COVID-19 Self-Assessment Chatbot

Post Syndicated from The Institute’s Editorial Staff original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/meet-cobo-a-covid19-selfassessment-chatbot

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE The startup StartChange.Today, cofounded by IEEE Member Aisha Nazia Nasir Mayin in Bangalore, India, has developed a chatbot in association with the marketing agency, Chatveda, to help users access whether they are at risk of catching the coronavirus by answering a few simple questions.

Mayin is an active IEEE volunteer. She’s the content marketing chair for the IEEE Technology and Engineering Management Society. She also serves as vice chair for the society’s IEEE Women in Engineering activities, in India.

The Institute asked Mayin about the chatbot.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What problem are you trying to solve?

As the number of people with COVID-19 continues to increase, it’s natural to worry about whether you might be infected.

We wanted to develop a platform to make it easy for people to assess themselves and get immediate results so they could take precautions. We also wanted to help alleviate stress on the healthcare system and remove panic about catching the virus.

We came up with COBO, a COVID-19 self-assessment Facebook Messenger chatbot.

What technologies are you using?

Facebook Messenger, which is one of the most popular messaging apps in the world. It has more than 1.4 billion users, and is expected to grow to 2.4 billion users by 2021. With an open rate of more than 90 percent, Messenger chatbots are the best platform to communicate with a large audience at scale.

Explain how your project works.

The self-assessment test will enable anyone to answer a few questions to check whether the person might be at risk of being affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Our chatbot wasn’t made to give people medical results. But based on the information from the users, we can help people understand what they are supposed to do if they are in a high-risk environment.

In an accessible, conversational format, the test requests information such as the user’s age, postal code, travel history, symptoms and their severity, and chronic health conditions. Based on the responses, the bot will recommend a course of action such as consult with your doctor, self-quarantine, or go to the hospital.

How are you protecting people’s privacy?

Team StartChange.Today and Chatveda won’t use the data collected by the chatbot for any personal or commercial use. Data such as travel history and existing health conditions will only be shared with a group of doctors and government officials for the sole use of providing better healthcare and increasing the efficiency of the healthcare system.

What challenges have you faced, and how did you overcome them?

Initially, it was definitely a challenge for the team to work remotely, but we got through it by finding new ways to collaborate. Also, converting medical scenarios into a form that is easily relatable to the average person and understanding and figuring out the probabilities and permutations behind the bot’s algorithm based on the user’s input was also quite a challenge. But we worked with doctors who were proactive and helpful. 

What is the potential impact of the technology?

The bot will benefit the general public by offering them a quick self-assessment test. Also, by aggregating the medical data the bot collects, the doctors can focus their efforts on those who are at high risk for catching the virus.

In the beta version, we are focusing on segmenting the audience based on the various factors such as travel history, and their health conditions and the severity. This helps the doctors focus on attending to people who need immediate care. This also helps in directing people who don’t require a doctor to helplines set up to assist those with COVID-19 questions. This will help officials manage the rush of those seeking medical care and reduce the high number of walk-ins to hospitals by those who suspect they have the virus.

In the near future, the chatbot will also provide medical authorities and decision-makers with a map based on postal codes, which could help them see where outbreaks are occurring and take action to contain them.

How close are you to the final product? 

We have developed a prototype of the bot, which was launched in April. We are working with several doctors trained to treat COVID-19 patients to make sure the people who fall in the risk category based on the medical protocols provided by the doctors and government authorities get immediate medical attention.

How many people are involved, and how many IEEE members are involved? 

I’m the only IEEE member of our team of five. The others are the three founding partners of Chatveda—Abid Omar, head of bots; Teesha Thomas, director of content; Nikesh Ghosh, head of operations. Dr. Athul Joseph Manual provides medical expertise.

How can other IEEE members get involved?

They should take the self-assessment test and provide feedback about how we can enhance the experience. For those who want to help us improve the bot—including developers, doctors, data analysts, and data scientists—they can send me an email and put “COBO” in the subject line.

Attention IEEE members: Are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping to deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to [email protected]

PAL Robotics Customizable Bots Could Be the Next Frontline Workers

Post Syndicated from Michelle Hampson original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/pal-robotics-customizable-bots-could-be-the-next-frontline-workers

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Scientists around the world are pushing hard to develop new technologies to support frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of this tech includes assistive tools to support frontline workers with their tasks, some researchers have their eye on ways to reduce the need for these employees to conduct high-risk tasks—by giving the jobs to robots.

One of those researchers is IEEE Member Francesco Ferro, CEO of PAL Robotics. He contacted The Institute to let us know about the company’s arsenal of customizable robots.

Based in Barcelona, the company’s base models are designed for a variety of tasks, including socializing with people and transporting items. PAL Robotics has been exploring ways to use its existing base models—or build upon them—to aid in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort has involved a lot of collaboration and adaptation in a short amount of time.

“The idea is to move fast and save lives,” Ferro says. “That is the all-important part.”

One model that could prove useful during the pandemic is Artificial Robot Intelligence (ARI), a mobile and social robot that can interact with people and ask them questions. PAL Robotics was already collaborating with seven other organizations—including ERM Automatismes Industriels, Heriot-Watt University, and the University of Trento—as part of a project called SPRING, to modify ARI for complex dialogue and interactions with people.

But as the pandemic began, the project’s partners agreed to broaden the focus to make it applicable in the fight against the virus.

With the right software, he says, ARI will be able to ask COVID-19 patients questions related to their symptoms, reducing how often healthcare workers must come into close contact with patients. Additional modifications to ARI will allow it to establish connections with e-health platforms and process patients’ medical data, Ferro says. The social robot could also be fitted with a thermal infrared camera to measure a person’s temperature.

“The goal is for the robot to be able to participate in different user cases in a hospital environment, such as welcoming newcomers to the waiting room, helping with check-in forms, providing information about the consultation agenda, acting as a guide to appointments, and also offering entertainment,” Ferro says. ARI will be able to give patients a more personalized experience, in part thanks to the sociability of the robot and its features such as voice recognition, deep learning, and ability to read emotions.

“Another particular advantage of ARI is that the robot can be teleoperated to enable caregivers to see, interact, and support patients in real time without physical interaction, which is very important in this pandemic period,” Ferro says.

PAL Robotics is also exploring ways to modify its mobile robot model, TIAGo Base (TIAGo stands for take it and go), to help out during the pandemic, Ferro says. A variety of add-ons can be incorporated into this bot, such as storage compartments to transport food and medications within hospitals.

The company is also planning to incorporate a UV light to kill viruses and bacteria. This adapted model, dubbed TIAGo Disinfection, could be sent into empty hospital rooms to systemically zap surfaces with the UV light, killing any lingering germs.  PAL Robotics is currently collaborating with a UV light manufacturer to create the new robotic appendage. Like ARI, TIAGo Disinfection could be equipped with an infrared camera to record patients’ temperatures.

The open-source framework, Robotics Operating System, is being used to program the robots. This allows the project’s collaborators and clients to easily incorporate their own software to customize the robot for different applications.

Ferro says the lockdown in Spain temporarily affected the manufacturing of the robots but the real bottleneck for getting ARI and the other bots on the front lines is certification from the EU Commission for their use in a healthcare setting, which is still pending.

“We have done safety assessments where we evaluate different hazardous situations—such as unexpected movement of the robot, electrical hazards related to charging, and mechanical hazards related to coupling with the robot joints—by indicating the probability of it happening and severity of the situation,” Ferro says.

As part of the next stage of the SPRING Project, ARI will undergo testing with human volunteers at some pilot tests sites, including the Broca Hospital in Paris.

“We are now trying to complete the pilot tests and are trying to develop solutions faster in an agile way in order to fulfill the real needs [brought on by the pandemic],” Ferro says. “We are pushing very hard for this.”

Takuo Aoyagi, Inventor of the Pulse Oximeter, Dies at Age 84

Post Syndicated from Joanna Goodrich original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/takuo-aoyagi-inventor-of-the-pulse-oximeter-dies-at-age-84

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE Takuo Aoyagi, the inventor of the pulse oximeter, died on 18 April at the age of 84. His invention—a medical device that can measure a person’s blood oxygen levels—is part of the standard of care for illnesses such as asthma, pneumonia, and lung cancer. It is also a key tool in monitoring the progression of COVID-19. A low oxygen level—or hypoxemia—is a symptom of the virus.

For his contributions to pulse oximetry, he was awarded the 2015 IEEE Medal for Innovations in Healthcare Technology.


Aoyagi grew up in the Niigata Prefecture in Japan.

When he was nine years old, his interest in science and engineering began. He became fascinated by the original oximeter, which was invented by Glenn Allan Millikan in the early 1940s to warn military pilots fighting in World War II that their body was being deprived of oxygen. The device was integrated into the pilot’s altitude mask and was clasped to the earlobe. The earpiece used a small incandescent bulb, filters to generate different wavelengths, and photocells to detect light. Oxygen levels could be determined by how much light passed through the earlobe.

According to an article on pulse oximetry in the journal Chest, early oximeters were cumbersome and required heating the earlobe, which could cause burns. Aoyagi devised an alternative way of measuring blood oxygen that did not suffer from these limitations.

He did this work at the electronic medical equipment manufacturer Nihon Kohden, in Tokyo, which he joined as a manager in the company’s R&D department in 1971.

In 1972, Aoyagi was investigating a noninvasive cardiac output device and discovered that arterial pulsatile “noise” interfering with the accurate dye dilution curve contains important information about the oxygenation of blood in a person’s arteries. A dye dilution curve is a graph of the concentrations of Evans Blue, a natural dye found in blood, as it is pumped into and away from the heart.

This discovery led Aoyagi to invent the pulse oximeter in 1975. His oximeter consists of a probe containing a light-emitting device and two photodetectors. It’s clamped onto a thin body part—typically a fingertip or earlobe. The oximeter passes two wavelengths of light through the body part to a photodetector on the other side. It measures the changing absorbance at each of the wavelengths, allowing the device to determine the absorbencies caused by the blood pulsing through the arteries. The oximeter rapidly and noninvasively assesses blood and respiratory problems in patients and allows clinicians to also detect heart abnormalities.

Aoyagi was granted a U.S. patent for the device in 1979. All of today’s oximeters are based on Aoyagi’s principles of pulse oximetry.

In 2007, the WHO deemed the pulse oximeter an essential device for reducing complications during operations and included it on its Surgical Safety Checklist.

This 3D Printed Ventilator Could Support Up to 20 COVID-19 Patients at One Time

Post Syndicated from The Institute’s Editorial Staff original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/this-3d-printed-ventilator-could-support-up-to-20-covid19-patients-at-one-time

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE IEEE Member Mohamed Ishag and his friend Mohamed Saqeeb are developing a ventilator that can support up to 20 patients at once.

In severe cases of COVID-19, the virus causes respiratory distress, making it difficult for patients to breathe. To alleviate this, a ventilator is used to push oxygen into the lungs.

Ishag received a master’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering from Omdurman Islamic University in the Republic of Sudan. Saqeeb earned a master’s degree in business, also from the university, and handles the business aspects of the project.

The Institute asked Ishag about the ventilator.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What problem are you trying to solve?

Hospitals around the world are facing a shortage of ventilators in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We developed a ventilator that can support up to 20 patients at one time, which will help hospitals treat more patients with severe respiratory distress.

What technologies are you using?

We are using a 3D printer to create the body and valves for the ventilator. The device is made up of an oxygen supply line, multiple valves, an air compressor, and a UV light that sterilizes the air.

Explain how the ventilator works.

The oxygen is pulled from the supply line and passes through a valve, which distributes the air to the patients. The valve is fitted with a UV light that sterilizes the oxygen before it’s delivered and an air compressor, which helps equally distribute the oxygen. Patients are fitted with a respiratory mask to receive the oxygen.

The air the patients exhale passes through a separate valve to be either recycled or released into the environment after being sterilized with a UV light.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

We had a difficult time finding financial support. However, the innovation platform Ennomative, which is based in Spain, held a competition in March searching for engineering solutions to problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our technology won and the organization will help us further develop our ventilator through open-source collaboration. It will also fund the development of the ventilator.

What is the potential impact of the technology?

It can help hospitals treat more COVID-19 patients, because our ventilator can maintain accurate oxygen levels for several patients at one time.

How close are you to the final product?

We are currently developing a prototype to test with the help of Ennomotive.

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to: [email protected]

German University Opens Up Its Hands-on Remote FPGA Lab During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/german-university-opens-up-its-handson-remote-fpga-lab-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

IEEE COVID-19 coverage logo, link to landing page

THE INSTITUTE The COVID-19 pandemic has forced universities around the world to hold classes remotely. Most lectures are held as video conferences, but for engineering studies, conducting virtual hands-on lab experiments are important, says Marco Winzker. The IEEE senior member is head of the Centre for Teaching Development and Innovation at Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences, in Sankt Augustin, Germany.

The school has opened up its remote lab on field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) for anyone in the world to attend for free. An FPGA is a programmable integrated circuit with elements such as logic gates, flip-flops, and RAM. FPGAs are used for many applications such as Internet routers, professional video cameras, and driver-assistance technology in cars.

“The lab provides the opportunity for students to perform experiments with real hardware over the Internet such as for designing digital circuits, which can be found in all modern electronic equipment,” Winzker says. 

Students use Verilog and VHDL to describe the function of an image-processing algorithm. With design software, they translate the code for the FPGA circuit. Then they can log into the remote lab, upload the code, and observe how their circuit design works in the FPGA, Winzker says. The remote lab provides interactivity, so students can upload image signals for processing and operate input switches for the FPGA. The result of the image processing is sent back to the students.

The lab is available year-round and supported by lecture videos on YouTube.

The school has partnered on the remote lab with three universities. The Universidad Tecnológica Nacional in Buenos Aires and the Universidad Nacional de San Luis are both in Argentina. The Chernihiv National University of Technology is in Ukraine.

More than 100 students attend from 30 countries including France, Morocco, Sweden, and the United States as well as Argentina and Ukraine, Winzker says. 

“The course offers students an opportunity for international cooperation despite travel restrictions,” he says. “Our students get to interact with people from other countries and practice English language in a work environment. They will need this competence in their professional life.”


Winzker says one of the lectures covers using FPGAs in cars for lane detection. Students learn how to program a chip to highlight the transition from dark blacktop to a bright lane-marking line in video obtained from a windshield-mounted camera. 

“This is a real-life application to show that cars really use FPGAs for this task,” he says.

Another talk on signal processing covers image enhancement in a TV set. Students build a digital filter that sharpens the image to make the picture look better.

There’s also a lecture on microelectronics. The students compare two different FPGAs to see the energy consumption of each. Winzker says FPGAs are manufactured with different technologies and those using the newer technology have a higher base level of energy consumption but a smaller increase with circuit activity, which makes computations more efficient.

Several IEEE members are involved with the lab. One of the lecturers is Senior Member Alejandro Furfaro, the director of the Digital Processing Laboratory at the Universidad Tecnológica Nacional

Member Pablo Orduña, the cofounder and CEO of LabsLand, in the San Francisco Bay Area, provides technical support for the lab’s software.


Before in-person classes at Bonn-Rhein-Sieg were cancelled due to the coronavirus, the remote lab was an optional component of Winzker’s FPGA course and students were asked then how they used it. Winzker says they gave a variety of reasons, including wanting to conduct more experiments on topics they liked and having the ability to repeat experiments they didn’t have time to finish during class. The remote lab also gave students who had family or work obligations the ability to finish their experiments when it was more convenient for them. 

At that time, Winzker also asked them what they thought about a mandatory remote lab. More than half responded that some in-person labs could be replaced by remote labs. 

“Apparently students are happy with this learning setup,” Winzker says.

The lab has become so popular that an additional experiment was added, Winzker says. The next course with online meetings will be held in April 2021.

“We see this lab as a service to the scientific community,” Winzker says. “We benefit from open source projects and this is our contribution to it. We call this approach internationalization at home, and it is part of our university strategy for digital teaching.”

Contactless Outdoor Temperature-Check Station Screens People Before They Enter Buildings

Post Syndicated from The Institute’s Editorial Staff original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-member-news/portuguese-engineers-develop-a-contactless-temperaturecheck-station

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THE INSTITUTE IEEE Student Member Pedro Brandao is part of a team of engineering students at the University of Porto in Portugal, that has built a device to screen people for fever before they enter facilities such as airports, office buildings, schools, and stores.

Brandao is pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the university.

The Institute asked him about the project.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What problem are you trying to solve?
We are trying to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risk of infection by developing an affordable device that can perform non-contact temperature measurement.

What technologies are you using?
The station contains a medical-grade infrared temperature sensor and ultrasonic distance sensors held up by two metal rods that sit on a base. We used a 3D printer and laser cutting to make the base, case, and rods.

A person would stand in front of the station. The ultrasonic distance sensors— which measure the distance to an object using ultrasonic sound waves—alerts the system that a person is present. The temperature sensor, obtained from open-source electronics platform Arduino, reads the person’s temperature.

Explain how your device works.
The device is mounted on a wall outside of a building or public space. There will be markings on the ground that direct people where to stand—about 20 centimeters away from the station.

The infrared temperature sensor measures the person’s temperature and the reading is displayed on a screen that is mounted next to the device. If the reading is high, a message instructs the person to get a COVID-19 test. The entire process takes under 20 seconds.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
Designing a machine that is easy and affordable to build.

We found a local community workshop where we could build our device. These public places allow people free access to tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and lathes. We used its tools, and the low-cost electronics that we purchased.

How close are you to the final product?
We are planning to begin testing the prototype soon.

Testing will include verifying the accuracy of the temperature sensor and assuring that each device can be easily made by other engineers.

To help us ensure accuracy, we are working to find a manufacturer or government lab that can provide us with blackbody infrared temperature sensors. Blackbody infrared temperature sensors measure the thermal electromagnetic radiation within or surrounding a body at room temperature and are more accurate than other sensors.

How many people are involved?
The team consists of more than 20 people who work in a variety of disciplines such as electronic engineering, optical engineering, and healthcare.

How can other IEEE members get involved?
The team communicates mainly on our slack channel. IEEE members can join by searching: #project-temperature-detection. Members can also email me.

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write to: [email protected]

An Autism Screening Tool Led Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan To Devote Himself to Humanitarian Work

Post Syndicated from Joanna Goodrich original https://spectrum.ieee.org/the-institute/ieee-member-news/an-autism-screening-tool-led-sampathkumar-veeraraghavan-to-devote-himself-to-humanitarian-work

THE INSTITUTE When Sampathkumar Veeraraghavan was an undergraduate at Anna University, in Chennai, India, he met with local families to see how technology could improve their quality of life. Many had children with autism, the IEEE senior member says, but because the parents were poor, the kids didn’t receive the medical care they needed. In some cases, the parents didn’t know much about the developmental disorder.

For his undergraduate dissertation, Veeraraghavan created software that helps screen children for autism.

He completed the early-screening system in 2004. Parents answer a series of questions about their child’s motor skills, and social and language development. Using an inference engine to evaluate the answers, the system determines whether the child is reaching the correct developmental milestones. It then generates a report stating whether the child demonstrates developmental delays. If so, the screening system provides a list of nearby specialists.

The screening tool can detect developmental delays in children as young as 18 months.

The system, which was deployed in more than 20 Indian schools and health care clinics, spearheaded the creation of other early-intervention programs for children with autism in rural areas.

After Veeraraghavan graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering, he launched another technology-based humanitarian program: Brahmam Innovations. In Sanskrit, brahmam equates to knowledge. The program aims to improve the living conditions of underserved communities.

Veeraraghavan does all that while holding down a full-time job as a senior technical program manager for Amazon in Boston.

For his humanitarian work, he is this year’s recipient of the annual IEEE Theodore W. Hissey Outstanding Young Professional Award, which is sponsored by IEEE Young Professionals and the IEEE Photonics and Power & Energy societies.

“This award is special to me because it recognizes both the technical and leadership contributions I’ve made to humanitarian efforts,” Veeraraghavan says.

The award was scheduled to be presented at the annual IEEE Honors Ceremony on 15 May in Vancouver, during the IEEE Vision, Innovation, and Challenges Summit, but the event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Veeraraghavan has a long association with IEEE. His undergraduate thesis advisor suggested that by joining IEEE he could improve his system through networking with other engineers.

“Joining the organization helped me find like-minded people who have a passion for developing technology and for humanitarian work,” Veeraraghavan says.

While he was developing his screening system as a student, he presented a paper about it at a conference in 2005. He won best paper and was approached by the chair of the IEEE Madras Section about featuring his screening technology in an article in the section’s newsletter, IEEE MAS Link. Some of the local IEEE members who read the article became his mentors and encouraged him to become more involved with the organization.

Local schools and health care facilities began to use Veeraraghavan’s autism screening technology in 2006. When he visited health care providers who were using it, he was introduced to the children’s families, who expressed their gratitude.

“That was the first time I saw the impact my technology had on the community,” he says. “Families who used the screening system told me that it changed their lives.”

Those interactions inspired Veeraraghavan to found Brahmam Innovations.

Although launching the program wasn’t smooth sailing, he was able to turn to his IEEE network for help.

“Although I could understand how to solve the community’s needs with technology, I didn’t know how to make the application scalable so it could be offered to everyone,” Veeraraghavan says. “I didn’t have a mentor to guide me on how to do this, but I was able to find several through IEEE, specifically the IEEE Madras Section.”

IEEE Members Vedantadesikan Krishnaswamy and Suresh Chander were two mentors who guided Veeraraghavan in his journey, both as founder of the Brahmam program and as an IEEE member. Krishnaswamy, who died in 2007, taught Veeraraghavan about the potential impact technology could have on disabled children. Chander introduced him to IEEE programs available to students and YP members.

To introduce himself to more members, he presented his autism screening system at the 2008 IEEE Region 10 Congress, which brings together students and young engineers from throughout IEEE’s Asia and Pacific region to learn about advances in technology, attend workshops, and meet IEEE leaders.

That opportunity provided the program with visibility, and the connections Veeraraghavan made led to collaborations with other engineering communities, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and disability advocacy groups, he says.

The program now is running projects in Uganda and the United States as well. Engineers are working to create self-sufficient villages using artificial intelligence, provide a continuous source of clean water and electricity, and address challenges faced by hospitals that care for neonatal and prenatal patients.

“Brahmam Innovations allows me to build a better tomorrow and to serve society,” Veeraraghavan says.


After joining IEEE, Veeraraghavan played a large role in many of the organization’s humanitarian efforts in his native country. He led a collaboration between the IEEE Young Professionals committee and the IEEE Women in Engineering Madras affinity group, which established the Sangamam program in India. The initiative teaches science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to women and children in rural areas and aims to create self-supporting communities.

In 2008 he moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Tufts University, in Medford, Mass.

While there he took on IEEE leadership roles. He was chair of the IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (IEEE SIGHT) projects committee from 2015 to 2017. During that time, he doubled the number of projects being funded. He then joined the EPICS in IEEE proposal committee and taught Boston high school students about STEM careers.

“Every IEEE member has a social responsibility to positively influence society through technological innovations and by mentoring students from underrepresented groups,” Veeraraghavan says. “When the community grows, the region grows; when the region grows, the nation grows; and when the nation grows, there will be global growth.”

For the past two years, Veeraraghavan has been a member of the IEEE Humanitarian Activities Committee. And he is now the global chair of IEEE SIGHT.

Veeraraghavan has increased the number of new projects being funded by IEEE SIGHT—which now total 21. He also increased the group’s membership by 200 percent, to 10,645. Under his leadership, IEEE SIGHT Celebration Week was held for the first time, in December. The event aims to increase awareness of the program within IEEE and to celebrate the humanitarian efforts volunteers and groups have made. The first IEEE SIGHT Day, a virtual event that was held on 28 April, was intended to foster a spirit of community for the global IEEE SIGHT network.

“Sampath’s exemplary leadership, vision, and pioneering innovations for IEEE humanitarian programs is truly inspiring,” says IEEE Senior Member Darwin Jose Raju, an IEEE SIGHT subcommittee member. “It reflects how IEEE members’ innovations can transcend global boundaries to serve the needs of underserved communities at grassroots levels. His significant contributions to technology-based humanitarian programs perfectly match with IEEE’s core mission in advancing technology to serve humanity.”

6 Tips to Help Your Startup Survive the Coronavirus Pandemic

Post Syndicated from Kathy Pretz original https://spectrum.ieee.org/news-from-around-ieee/the-institute/ieee-products-services/6-tips-to-help-your-startup-survive-the-coronavirus-pandemic

This article is part of a series on advice for engineering entrepreneurs.

THE INSTITUTE Wondering how your startup will survive the coronavirus crisis? Don’t panic. That’s the key advice from venture advisor IEEE Fellow Chenyang Xu.

“The coronavirus pandemic has changed the business landscape we are all familiar with, and it’s hard for anyone to accept the sudden, devastating changes,” he says. “Yet accepting the changes is the best step moving forward. The best action any startup founder can take is to not panic.”

Xu has advised hundreds of tech entrepreneurs and investors during the past two decades. He also has worked on the corporate side with global technology startups when he was general manager of the Siemens Technology-to-Business Center, in Berkeley, Calif. There, he led a team of venture directors who invested in and partnered with more than 50 promising technology startups.

Here are six actions startups should take to weather the pandemic.


Redo your company’s strategy to face the current reality. Take a hard look at all the business assumptions you made about your customers, markets, product, revenue, and cost forecasts, Xu says. Most likely they’re no longer true. They might be invalid, changed for the worse, maybe for the better, or have remained the same.

Make a short-term strategic plan instead of a long-term one, he says. The plan doesn’t have to be perfect because you need to be able to survive right now.

“Just make a plan that adapts to the new reality, review it daily, and update it weekly. That’s really the key,” he says.

Next, he says, act on those new strategies decisively and immediately—whether that’s offering a new product or service, canceling a product line, or cutting costs.

“In this time of crisis, there’s nothing worse than being indecisive and taking no action,” Xu says. “Remember, the most important goal right now is to survive until the economy restarts or seize new opportunities to grow the company.”


Your customers are also struggling during this time so talk to them to better understand their challenges, Xu says. Try to go above and beyond by offering free products or services. If you can’t afford to do this, find other ways to lend them a helping hand.

“I think this is very important,” Xu says. “A difficult time like this is the best time to show one’s character and build long-lasting trust with customers. The more you can help your customers, the more you will also be able to weather the storm together.”


Be sure to take care of your employees and help the community.

“In this time of crisis, a lot of people around you have needs,” Xu says. “Protect your employees by lessening the risk of exposure to the virus. Give them a safe working environment. Also help out the community if you have the means and resources to do so. I know many startup founders who are doing just that.”


Communication is particularly difficult for founders of tech companies who often focus more on building their company. But good communication is essential. Employees, customers, investors, and purchasers are anxious and worried. Now is the time to keep them updated on where the company is going and or what the current situation is.

“Founders should communicate authentically and with compassion about the situation and the changes made to their business activities so they can win people’s hearts and their support,” Xu says. “Compassion is key because this is not just not about business, but rather a crisis that is having an emotional impact on everyone.”


You and your team may now have more time on your hands. Use it to plug the holes in your business or do all those important but not urgent projects you’ve been putting off because you were too busy. These could include conducting performance reviews of your employees; reviewing strategies, processes, and products; rewriting company policies; or streamlining procedures.

“When you return to business, you’ll be stronger and more able to weather the aftermath,” Xu says.


Fundraising during this time will be harder than before the pandemic, so founders need to be aware of alternative funding streams. These could include government-funded programs aimed at helping small businesses and special low-interest or no-interest bank loans.


While the pandemic might have shuttered your company’s traditional business, new opportunities could open up. But you need to know where to look for them. By keeping communication channels open with others, you might discover new lines of business that you can take on immediately to generate new revenue streams.

“Instead of thinking, ‘Oh no, all my opportunities have closed,’” Xu says. “Now is a really good time to look at new business opportunities.” Some IEEE members, for example, have shifted toward COVID-19 related projects.


No matter how severe and disruptive this crisis is, one thing is for sure, Xu says, the war on this pandemic will be won.

“Founders who navigate through this storm with bold, compassionate, and flexible leadership will not only survive, but also come out of this situation even stronger,” he says.