Latest innovations, jugaad, and initiatives taken by India's tech ecosystem & leaders to help India flatten the curve and navigate through the Covid-19 impact.
From registering its first case in January end, India now has nearly 10K confirmed positive cases of Covid-19 along with over 330 deaths. While India has not shown the same kind of scary numbers that have come from Europe and the US, one of the reasons is the low overall testing numbers according to many experts.
While the number of cases is increasing each day, the government is now figuring out newer ways to tackle the unprecedented situation, including increasing testing and preparing hospitals for more patients. Along with healthcare professionals and law enforcement agencies, the Indian government is arming itself for a long battle against Covid-19.
To support the healthcare infrastructure and bolster the monitoring system with tech-enabled innovations, Indian startups are closely working with authorities at central, state, and district levels. Each state has its own set of issues and many of them have turned to startups for solutions, as we saw in the case of Kerala and other states in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tech Startups Fighting Back Against Covid-19
From creating Covid-19 trackers to coming up with cheaper ventilator designs and helping in deliveries of essentials through drones, many startups in India have deployed cutting-edge technology to solve the various problems posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here are 10 startups that are offering state-of-the-art innovations to tackle the problems on the ground and in India’s healthcare infrastructure.
In India, there are only around 40K ventilators available in hospitals across the country. These numbers pale in comparison to the worst-hit countries such as Italy and the US. As the number of Covid-19 positive cases in India is rising with each day, a shortage of ventilators in hospitals is expected to come soon if cases become critical.
While many startups and tech companies have started manufacturing ventilators or similar alternatives, Bengaluru-based Ethereal Machines has a unique solution to meet the demand. Founded by Kaushik Mudda and Navin Jain in 2014, Ethereal Machines is 3D printing ventilator splitters uniquely designed for managing two patients with different ventilatory needs via differential pressure splitting.
These splitters are used in cases where two patients require two different supplies of oxygen from the ventilator. For example, if a person A requires 65% and person B requires 35%, the splitter will divide the oxygen supply accordingly, thereby reducing the dependency on another ventilator.
For the device, Mudda and Jain worked with a team of doctors which was headed by Bengaluru-based Aster Hospitals’ Sonal Asthana. With the expertise of the doctors, the team was able to come up with a device that also helps in preventing cross-contamination between paired patients.
The splitted designed by Ethereal Machines is said to be an improved version of those ventilator splitters. With an innovative design, the startup is able to increase the effectiveness of a ventilator while decreasing some of the risks of simple splitters. Ethereal won a grant of INR 50 Lakh from the Action Covid-19 Team (ACT), comprising startup investors and VCs.
Personal protective equipment or PPE is the first line of defence for doctors and healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients. As of now, the country is going through a massive shortage of PPEs. To make things worse, the Indian government delayed framing guidelines for the manufacturing of PPE due to which health workers in India are facing a severe shortage of high-quality protective suits.
To meet the demand, Sonam Motwani-led Karkhana.io is using technologies like 3D printing, injection moulding, machining and fabrication to mass-produce PPEs.
The Mumbai-based startup is manufacturing face shields, aerosol boxes, and goggles. The startup is also offering tools to help others manufacture PPEs and other ICU equipment such as valves, connectors, and ventilator parts. For their unique approach in battling coronavirus, Karkhana.io has received a grant of INR 20 Lakh from ACT.
As of now, the startup is manufacturing around 1200 face shields per day and is planning to ramp up the production to 5000 units per day. The company told Inc42 that using laser cutting, it cuts 0.4 MM thick sheet to make face shields.
Karkhana.io said that the face shields are reusable if disinfected properly and the material used in them also doesn’t cause any itching to the eyes. The company has already started to receive orders from a few government and private hospitals.
As in past epidemics, hospitals have turned Covid-19 hotspots due to improper sanitization facilities or lack of disinfectants and PPEs. As the demand of these disinfectants has surged due to the coronavirus outbreak, many hospitals are running short of them.
While some innovative ideas have been put forward to meet the demand of disinfectants, New-Delhi based PerSapien has a unique proposition that eliminates the need altogether.
Founded by Stanford University researchers Debayan Saha and Shashi Ranjan, PerSapien has developed a mini robot named ‘Minus Corona UV Bot’ to sterilize hospital corridors, wards, ICUs and patient rooms.
The robot does so by using ultraviolet light which has a wavelength of 254 nm. A UV-C lamp is mounted on the top of a wheeled robotic platform which can be controlled by remote control.
The Minus Corona UV Bot eliminates the need for human personnel for sanitisation and there’s also a camera on the top of the robot for remote monitoring.
A similar robot was sold by Denmark-based UVD Robots to hospitals in Wuhan, China. While UVD Robots charged around $80K to $90K for its robots, PerSapien is selling these at a fraction of the cost for around INR 25K.
Ranjan told Inc42 that the robot has been instituted in many places in Kolkata, including Don Bosco School and Narayana Multispeciality Hospital. Some facilities in Hooghly District of West Bengal are also using this robot currently.
While doctors and healthcare professionals are striving to save the lives of thousands, they are also risking their own life by continuously monitoring coronavirus patients in hospitals.
However, many startups have come up with unique solutions which are now facilitating remote monitoring of these patients. Chennai-based Helyxon has developed OXY 2, a real-time body temperature, heart rate and oxygen saturation monitoring device which alerts doctors or attendants about any abnormal change in any parameters.
The apparatus looks like a complex wired device but it is said to be easy to use. The device is rolled like a band on the hand with one side connected to a finger. The data is shared by the device to a mobile application via Bluetooth which is further sent to servers of the company through mobile internet or WiFi.
Founded by Vijai Shankar Raja, Helyxon has also developed 98.6 Fever Watch. Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI), this watch performs continuous temperature monitoring digitally. It also comes with a feature which updates doctors about a spike in temperature.
Both these devices are being used in fighting coronavirus by healthcare providers in North America, the Middle East and East Asia. The startup works along with IITM’s Healthcare Technology Innovation Centre (HTIC), which is set up at IIT Madras Research Park.
While most startups are coming with new innovations to back healthcare efforts against Covid-19, some have modified their existing offerings to rise up to the challenge.
For instance, Gurugram-based Staqu, which provides face recognition systems, has launched an artificial intelligence-based thermal camera for detecting potential positive cases of Covid-19. The company usually supplies its smart cameras to law enforcement for surveillance.
The camera named JARVIS creates a real-time alert in case it detects a person with increased body temperature. The camera has a range of up to 100 meters and can monitor multiple people at the same time.
Using these cameras in public places, law enforcement agencies can identify people with Covid-19 symptoms, thereby curbing the pandemic. As they are also equipped with facial recognition capabilities, it becomes easier for law enforcement agencies to catch these people.
Founded in 2015 by Atul Rai, Chetan Rexwal, Anurag Saini, and Pankaj Sharma, Staqu claims that the technology is functional and effective in scanning crowded places like airports, railway stations, malls, etc.
Cofounder and CEO Rai told Inc42 that the company is not manufacturing the hardware for thermal cameras but leveraging and incorporating the existing technology into facial recognition cameras. He also added that JARVIS works in places with ambient light where other thermal cameras fail. Before the lockdown, Staqu was using these cameras at its office premises and was in discussions with a few airport authorities.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, cities like Mumbai and Delhi along with Uttar Pradesh have made wearing masks mandatory in public places. In Mumbai, anyone who is found without a face mask can be jailed for up to six months.
However, many people in these areas are still roaming without a face mask. To monitor these people, Jabalpur-based Adverto has developed a face mask detection system which detects whether any person is wearing a mask or not through a camera stream.
If a person is identified without a mask, then the system flags an alarm and notifies law enforcement to catch the offender. The image of the person is also taken by the camera for easy identification of the person.
Founded by Anurag Soni, the startup is also looking to add a thermal detection feature to these cameras as well. The camera then will be able to identify whether a person is having a fever, a common symptom of Covid-19. Currently, the startup is building a proof of concept at the Jabalpur Incubation Centre.
Soni told Inc42 that the startup is going to deploy one such camera at the district collector office. Some hospitals have also contacted Adverto for the technology.
Pulse Active Stations Network
With not much protection at Covid-19 testing centres due to unavailability of PPE, many healthcare professionals are putting their lives at risk while testing thousands of patients daily. To protect these people and make the whole diagnostic process simpler, Pulse Active Stations Network has set up fully protected kiosks to collect test samples.
The Hyderabad-based startup has named these kiosks as Pulse Active Detection Station. At these kiosks, a sample collector, wearing a full-body protective suit along with other personal protective equipment, stands inside the setup to conduct tests, thereby preventing themselves from contracting coronavirus.
The new Pulse Active Detection Station has a capacity to test 100 people per shift, at the same time ensuring that sample collector is completely protected 1/2 pic.twitter.com/Edw9LCMiNO
— KTR (@KTRTRS) April 8, 2020
Founded by Joginder Tanikella, Pulse Active Detection Station also collects vital data points related to coronavirus screening to people who come for Covid-19 testing. Besides Covid-19, the kiosk analyses for comorbidities — the presence of other disorders that could be exacerbated by potential coronavirus infection.
The data is sent to governments and public health institutions which helps them to devise their plan of action for fighting Covid-19. The kiosk has a capacity of testing around 100 people in a day. Pulse Active Detection Station was incubated at Hyderabad Medical Devices Park.
Big Bang Boom
Big Bang Boom is another startup that has pivoted its operations and model to take on the coronavirus pandemic. The Chennai-based defence tech startup has developed a remotely-operated ventilator system.
Using some of its existing defence technology while incorporating new ideas , the startup developed this ventilator system to help doctors remotely monitor the condition of the patient.
Additionally, the startup is also working to create an inexpensive DIY kit for manufacturing ventilators. These kits can be sent to primary healthcare centres (PHCs) across the country.
For these innovations, Big Bang Boom emerged as the winner of a government hackathon which had sought efficient ideas for solving challenges related to coronavirus.
Covid-19 patients need continuous monitoring for temperature, heart rate, oxygen saturation, especially elders and children. However, if patients are under home quarantine or in a large Covid-19 unit with few healthcare workers, monitoring is a tedious task.
To help ease the burden on the healthcare system, the Chennai-based MedIoTek Health System has launched Vincense, a wearable device which continuously measures pulse rate, oxygen levels, skin temperature, and respiration rate.
The data from the device is transmitted from the wearables, via smartphone, to a secure cloud server that a healthcare provider can check into at any time. If any of the vital parameters cross-default or user-defined limits at any time, VinCense immediately alerts respective doctors and nurses.
In serious cases, it also sends an ambulance to the patient’s house after confirmation from relatives or neighbours. The patient can also raise an alarm in an event of an emergency using the help button on the device.
MedIoTek Health has also applied for a patent license for Vincense which is available for INR 27K. Vincense has also been shortlisted as one of the 13 startups Centre for Cellular And Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP) for its accelerator programme.
Many governments across the world are relying on surveillance technologies to map the movement of quarantine individuals. In India, the central government has developed a similar online dashboard, while many startups are helping state governments and local authorities with their versions as well.
Bengaluru-based Intugine Technologies has developed software for government officials to monitor a large number of home quarantined individuals through a single dashboard, to ensure that people are following social distancing norms.
While there are several such ideas in the market, Intugine’s tracking product differs as it does not need anyone to download an app on their smartphone. Those told to be in mandatory quarantine can share their geo-location via SMS by simply giving consent to the government.
So far, five states have started to use the monitoring technology developed by Intugine. Government officials in these states are monitoring coronavirus patients on a real-time dashboard. Intugine claims that the location data of these quarantine people are saved on secure servers to ensure their privacy. Also, the tracking of these people automatically stops after the quarantine period comes to an end.