Tech Talk: Can You Imagine If We Had To Deal With COVID-19 Without Tech?
It’s been more than a year since the Circuit Breaker ended on 1 June last year. Time flies hor?
Thankfully, life in Singapore has regained a semblance of normalcy - with the addition of mask wearing, temperature checks, and safe distancing precautions. By now, for most of us, these things have become part of our daily autopilot routines.
And one of the biggest contributing factors to our ability to "keep calm and carry on", as they say, is the amazing tech developed right here in Singapore to help deal with the now-endemic COVID-19 situation.
Here, a list of some them:
1. SafeEntry and TraceTogether
Scanning a QR code to get into anywhere in Singapore has become second nature here. Yeah it’s mafan (but honestly, not any more mafan than tapping your EZ-Link card at the MRT station), but it’s because of SafeEntry and TraceTogether that our COVID-19 cases have remained low.
Even after a second surge, cases have dropped significantly. With SafeEntry and TraceTogether, the gahmen can find and quarantine close contacts of infected cases in less than 1.5 days. All this using Bluetooth signals that record nearby TraceTogether app and token users, with the promise that it only records our location and nothing else.
There were several hiccups with TraceTogether – the compatibility with iOS and different Android phones, plus the fact that seniors may not have smartphones or have trouble learning how to navigate a new app.
But the TraceTogether token has made it easy for this group. There are no buttons and no instructions required - just carry it around and it’ll do its job. No one can access the data (unless it’s for contact-tracing purposes), not even the police - unless you’re involved in serious crimes like murder or terrorism lah. Plus, you can tuck it into your AirPod case too. Neat eh?
TraceTogether’s source code has been open-sourced, so anyone can use it. Fun fact: Australia derived its own contact tracing app from TraceTogether’s source code, and as many as 50 countries are looking into how they can use it, including New Zealand. Impressive, hor?
Most of us have probably never heard of this app, but you’ll be familiar with it if you have friends or family flying to Singapore. The app manages a person’s stay home notice (SHN) or quarantine orders (QO), and prompts users to report their location so the gahmen knows they’re not breaking SHN or QO. Users will also need to use the app to submit health reports three times a day. All to keep us safe.
3. Temperature checking tech
*teeeeet* normal body temperature. That robotic lady’s voice is so ingrained in my head that I mime it when I stick my forehead to the temperature scanner. Soon, there will be better temperature screening options that could mean faster entries into buildings.
One such invention is developed by GovTech called VigilantGantry. It uses AI in addition to already existing thermal systems and off-the-shelf tech to speed up temperature screening. An NUS trial saw checks as fast as 2 seconds per visitor. The solution has been open-sourced to allow for wider adoption in the country.
But what about places with a larger footfall? SPOTON, (pronounced “spot-on”) uses AI to check the temperatures of 10 people at one time, and will raise an alert if got someone above 37.5°C or if the person never wear mask. The best part about SPOTON is that it works with cheap off-the-shelf hardware. The software for this other GovTech initiative has already been licensed to four Singapore distributors.
iThermo from IHiS and KroniKare is another automated real-time screening device able to spot fevers in a crowd. Using AI, iThermo can focus on a person’s forehead area to take their temperature, even when they aren’t looking directly at the camera. The device was repurposed from a wound scanner developed by KroniKare. Plus, it’s apparently 10 times cheaper compared to the advanced scanners at Changi Airport.
I got tested for COVID-19 when I had a bad bout of flu (thankfully it was nothing) but the moment the long swab entered my nose… it was so weirdly uncomfortable. SwabBot aims to fix that and keep healthcare workers safe by automating the entire swabbing process.
It’s so easy to use that even the patients themselves can use it, with testers saying its more comfortable than a manual swab.
More importantly, the SwabBot doesn’t expose healthcare workers to potentially positive COVID-19 cases and frontliners will be able to focus on what they do best – saving lives.
5. Sunburst UV Robots
It’s normal to see workers cleaning surfaces regularly when we go shopping or ride the MRT, but it’s difficult to truly clean everything. PBA Group, a local robotics company has developed Sunburst UV, an automated robot that emits a powerful ultraviolet-C (UV-C) light that kills 99% of bacteria and eliminates viruses.
The light is so strong that it’s actually dangerous – so it’s used to patrol shopping malls after-hours. But if it detects a human nearby it will switch off on its own. It can even drive itself to the charger to self-charge. This Singapore-made robot is now being used in Malaysia and Thailand too.