Tech pitches in to fight COVID-19 pandemic

A growing number of tech companies and IT pros are working in a variety of ways to help fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Here's a rundown of what some of them are doing to help fight COVID-19.

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Domo updates COVID-19 Global Tracker

Looking to bolster the data about the pandemic it's already providing, analytics firm Domo has updated its free, interactive Coronavirus (COVID-19) Global Tracker with county-level infection statistics, stay-at-home orders and testing-by-state data.

“We’ve seen incredible interest in this free resource as organizations of all kinds seek to quickly understand how the virus is impacting the world in which they operate,” said Domo CEO and founder Josh James. “Easy access to consumable data can help inform critical decisions and actions that help navigate through this crisis. We’re seeing hundreds of customers — healthcare organizations, grocers, national retailers, logistics firms and many others — combine the underlying data sets with their own operational data to help them respond more quickly to the changing environment.”

Updated every 10 minutes, the tracker aggregates and cross-checks data from sources including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), Johns Hopkins University, Worldometer and Enigma.

WPI turns to 3D printing to create ventilators

Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass. are developing designs that could be used with 3D printers to create ventilators from readily available manual, handheld, bag valve mask (BVM) resuscitators. 

"The WPI researchers are going to make designs of multiple devices and their components publicly available so anyone with a 3D printer and a background in electronics and mechanical engineering could use them to produce ventilators for their local hospitals," according to WPI's Sharon Gaudin. "A manufacturing company also could use the designs to produce ventilators quickly and at scale."

"We’re taking things that are used every day in emergency medicine and finding a way to turn them into safe, reliable, and readily replicable ventilators that can save patients’ lives. And we’re sharing those designs with the world," said Gregory Fischer, professor of robotics engineering and mechanical engineering and director of the PracticePoint Medical Cyber-Physcial Systems R&D Center.

The ventilators built from the WPI designs are meant to be used for more stable patients so commercial ventilators with more advanced sensing and control can be saved for critical patients hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Google Cloud offers COVID-19 Public Datasets

Google on Tuesday unveiled a COVID-19 Public Datasets program designed "to make data more accessible to researchers, data scientists and analysts," the company said. "The program will host a repository of public datasets that relate to the COVID-19 crisis and make them free to access and analyze. These include the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering (JHU CSSE) dataset, Global Health Data from the World Bank, and OpenStreetMap data.

"As with all data in the Google Cloud Public Datasets Program, Google pays for storage of datasets in the program. BigQuery also provides free queries over certain COVID-related datasets to support the response to COVID-19. Queries on COVID datasets will not count against the BigQuery sandbox free tier, where you can query up to 1TB free each month."

In terms of limits and duration, the company pledged that the datasets will remain free until Sept. 15, and said queries of COVID data are free. But if "you join COVID datasets with non-COVID datasets, the bytes processed in the non-COVID datasets will be counted against the free tier, then charged accordingly to prevent abuse. 

The datasets will be updated daily.

DigitalOcean offers developer cloud assets

For nonprofit groups working against the COVID-19 pandemic, DigitalOcean is offering $100,000 in infrastructure credits for new projects and up to $50,000 in cash donations to the company's COVID-19 Relief Fund. (The company gives $100 for each proposed project that meets DigitalOcean requirements.)

The kinds of efforts it's backing include:

  • Applications or online resources designed to educate, coordinate help, or track the virus;
  • Hackathons or virtual challenges related to the pandemic;
  • Tools that teach others and enable and support online education;
  • And projects that help SMBs affected by the coronavirus.

"Our community is full of innovators and technologists who are leveraging their skills to create tools, resources, and events with missions focused on the COVID-19  pandemic," the company said on its website. "As always, we’re inspired by our community ... and we’re committed to helping bring your impactful ideas to life."

Kaleyra: Free text messaging for the Italian Red Cross

Cloud-based communications firm Kaleyra is supporting the Italian Red Cross (Croce Rossa Italiana, CRI) with a free text-message service for volunteers and citizens dealing with the spread of COVID-19. By texting 4353535, the CRI can recruit health workers in affected areas, manage questions from citizens, and communicate quickly with volunteers, Kaleyra said. The toll-free number can be reached by all local operators to help direct essential medical services through text messages.

"The Coronavirus pandemic has forced all of us to change our habits — the way we travel, the way we live, and the way we work," the company said in a March 26 blog post. "Work from home has become the new norm. Like many other businesses, we, too, are working remotely.  We are doing our best to equip our employees and other stakeholders to work remotely as far as possible. Work from home however, does not mean the end of teamwork or business...."

The service for the CRI has seen more than 7,500 text messages since it went into operation in mid-March.

Ping: Free single sign-on, MFA for remote workers

Ping Identity, which provides cloud-based sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) security options, is offering six month of its services for free to new customers for unlimited apps and identities, or six months of free MFA for existing customers. The move comes in response to the rush by companies to have their employees work from home as the COVID-19 outbreak worsens worldwide.

"People around the world are being encouraged or required to work from home to stay healthy and do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19," the company said on its website. "We want to do our part to help.... That's why we're providing enterprises with fast, free SSO and MFA for unlimited applications."

According to Ping, customers who use its service get:

  • One-click access to all of their SaaS applications;
  • Strong authentication for VPN connections;
  • And increased productivity and security for at-home workers.

Ping provides identity security services to a wide variety of companies across numerous industries, including HP, Netflix, Chevron, Intuit and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, among others.

Neo4j offers help with graph analytics

Neo4j is offering free access to commercial versions of its Graph Data Platform and other assistance to developers, researchers and data scientists working on COVID-19-related projects. "The goal is to help data scientists and researchers analyze the massive amounts of connected data about people, infections, locations, drugs, and more," the company said in a statement.

COVID-19 project submissions should be made online using this Google Doc.

The company is also hosting a virtual Graphs4Good Hackathon through April 14 for those looking to "contribute their energy towards a meaningful graph project." On April 15, Neo4j plans to invite project leads and contributors to present in a Graphs4Good Project Showcase. (The hackathon, announced March 26, already has more than 150 sign-ups.)

Neo4j highlighted the COVID graph — a knowledge graph by researchers, developers and volunteers that integrates various COVID-19 public datasets to help researchers and scientists more efficiently find their way through relevant publications, case statistics, genes and functions, molecular data and more.

AI to help overloaded hospital switchboards

A Palo Alto, Calif. AI company, Aisera, is offering its software free for 60 days to help healthcare organizations and government agencies manage a crush of queries and phone calls from people woried about the COVID-19 outbreak.

Specifically, the company said its remote working virtual assistant and collaboration app can bolster "customer service during a time of need during the global pandemic. The Aisera Virtual Assistant will help hospitals and government agencies deliver COVID-19-related responses to the high volume of questions, concerns, and inquiries caused by this pandemic," the company said in a statement.

“The overwhelming amount of inquiries [is] beyond what staff and current tools can handle,” said Aisera CEO Muddu Sudhakar. “We know this tool can help save lives and slow the spread of this disease by providing timely response to urgent public inquiries."

"Hospitals are setting up chatbots, symptom checkers, and telemedicine tools virtually overnight to triage patients, so that healthy people can stay home," the company said. "Aisera’s self-learning [service] employs the key components of AI — NLU and Natural Language Processing (NLP) — to enable unsupervised learning and a stateful flow of dialogue...."

Aisera's software works with a number of service desk offerings, including those from  Salesforce, ServiceNow, Atlassian and BMC.

An infrastructure boost for firms fighting COVID-19

London-based infrastructure provider Heficed said Monday it will offer its services for free to companies working on the front lines to end the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Heficed can provide organizations in need with servers for data storage and processing, secure cloud hosting to protect mission-critical data and a fast and reliable internet connection that would help maintain operational stability," the company said in a statement.

Founded in 2008, Heficed aims to help companies and government organizations order, lease, deploy, and manage IP addresses. Its platform automates what can be a time-consuming process, lowering the costs associated with provisioning IPs to physical and virtual infrastructure.

The company said organizations should contact it via and provide information "about the project they are currently working on and details on the required resources. Heficed believes that joining forces with the organizations standing in the front lines of this crisis will accelerate the development of solutions that will help combat the pandemic."

Apple launches COVID-19 app, website

Apple on Friday unveiled a screening tool and set of resources designed to help people stay updated on the ongoing pandemic and take steps to protect their health. The information provided is based on the latest Centers for Disease Control guidance.

The new COVID-19 website and the COVID-19 app (now available in the company's App Store), were created jointly with the CDC, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Federal Emergency management Agency.

The app and website allow users to answer a series of questions involving risk factors, recent exposure and symptoms of the coronavirus. In turn, users will get CDC recommendations on next steps, including guidance on social distancing and self-isolating, how to monitor symptoms, whether or not a test is recommended, and when to contact a medical provider. This screening tools are not designed to replace instructions from healthcare providers or guidance from state and local health authorities, the company said.

Start-up Apollo tweaks platform to match healthcare pros with hospitals

A health-tech startup that matches healthcare professionals with healthcare organizations and facilities seeking immediate shift coverage has relaunched its platform in light of an expected nationwide shortage of nurses, physicians, healthcare workers, and volunteers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The online tool from Apollo is intended to reduce the strain on the U.S. healthcare system; Apollo has waived any fees for using its platform for the next four weeks.

Using the platform, hospitals can post jobs and job-seeking professionals can create profiles. An algorithm then matches those institutions needing immediate assistance with potential employees to address staffing challenges. Apollo has more than 90 physicians enrolled from several major health systems.

"As medical professionals, we understand the desperate need of the healthcare community right now," said Apollo Founder and CEO Jon Lensing. "We believe that this shift in our original plans better serves our hurting nation. Our mission has always been to help save lives, and it will forever remain that."

"COVID-19 has rapidly changed life in the United States in ways that few thought possible just weeks ago," the company said in a statement. "While we adapt to these changes, there may be even more changes to come including increased strain and demand on our healthcare facilities and healthcare providers. At Apollo, we want to help mitigate the stress endured by both healthcare facilities and healthcare providers."

IBM, Google, Microsoft, HPE and others create an HPC consortium

A number of major tech players, government agencies and universities has joined forces to create a COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium that hopes to speed up the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The group includes IBM, AWS, Google, HPE, Microsoft, NASA, the U.S. National Labs, NASA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of Energy, among others.

The idea is to meld the high-performance computing (HPC) systems supported by consortium members to help researchers run massive amounts of epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling calculations. The experiments would take years to complete if done by hand, or months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms, according to IBM.

New York's technology SWAT teams

New York officials are pulling together "Technology SWAT teams" as the state struggles to deal with COVID-19 outbreak.

"New York State is launching technology driven products with leading global tech companies to accelerate and amplify our response to COVID-19," the state said on its official website. "We are looking for impactful solutions and skilled tech employees to help. Individuals from leading global technology companies are being deployed across high-impact and urgent coronavirus response activities."

In particular, New York is seeking "experience in product management, software development/engineering, hardware deployment and end-user support, data science, operations management, design, or other similar areas. Technology companies, universities, nonprofits, research labs, and other organizations with technology expertise are invited to submit an expression of interest."

IT pros interested in helping must complete an "Interest Form." The state envisions 90-day deployments and is focusing on workers already working remotely, especially in the Eastern and Central U.S. time zones.

"Given that many employers are having many workers work from home, volunteers would collaborate virtually with New York State teams," the state said. "So, preference will be given to those in the Eastern and Central US time zones, but we are open to the west coast as well."

New York — especially New York City — has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and leads the nation in diagnosed cases.

The Devpost hackathon

Hoping to generate "software solutions that drive social impact," Devpost has organized a COVID-19 Global Hackathon to try to fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"We're encouraging YOU — innovators around the world — to #BuildforCOVID19 using technologies of your choice across a range of suggested themes and challenge areas — some of which have been sourced through health partners including the World Health Organization and scientists at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub," Devpost said.

"The hackathon welcomes locally and globally focused solutions, and is open to all developers — with support from technology companies and platforms including AWS, Facebook, Giphy, Microsoft, Pinterest, Slack, TikTok, Twitter and WeChat, who will be sharing resources to support participants throughout the submission period."

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