The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – in conjunction with Hackster.io and supported by Arm – recently threw down the gauntlet to developers worldwide, challenging them to find globally sourced, locally implementable solutions to support developing countries experiencing an accelerated spread of COVID-19.
The Detect and Prevent Challenge aims to support under-resourced countries through the sharing and transfer of open-source technology in pursuit of three key aims: helping viral detection, flattening the COVID-19 transmission curve, and reducing the virus’s economic impact.
Arm Innovator Peter Ma, Co-Founder of MixPose streaming platform for fitness professionals and winner of more than 100 hackathons, explains how his low-cost, smartphone-based digital stethoscope – complete with AI for diagnosing respiratory symptoms – could be a game-changer in the fight against coronavirus.
“I spend a lot of time on Hackster.io; I’ve entered scores of challenges before, just for the fun of taking part. Usually, the pleasure is in seeing who has the wildest ideas, who builds the craziest stuff. But this was different.
“COVID-19 has had such a dramatic impact at every level, I think everyone’s looking for a way to do their part. I’d been 3D printing face shields and taking them to hospitals, and this seemed like another way to make a tangible, useful contribution.”
“Telemedicine – caring for patients remotely – is something that really interests me, and it has particular relevance right now; the lockdown has forced virtual consultations into the mainstream almost overnight.
“But there are limitations: it can be difficult to gather accurate data remotely. And, in the case of infections such as COVID-19, having a clear picture of the patient’s respiratory health is clearly advantageous. Every doctor has a stethoscope, but how many people own their own? And the digital stethoscopes on the market are generally not affordable at an individual level.
“My co-creators Ethan Fan, Sarah Han and I wanted to build an open-source digital stethoscope that’s affordable even in low-resource settings. And to make diagnosis easier, we’ve used AI-based sound classification to detect adverse symptoms.”
“The device uses the head of a normal stethoscope and a tiny microphone, each of which can be bought for around $5 retail, or around $1 wholesale. By attaching the microphone to the stethoscope, you can record the sound of your heart or respiratory system using a laptop or smartphone.
“Next, AI sound classification parses the recording for signs of specific symptoms. For this project we wanted to monitor heart rate, along with potential symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or pneumonia – something that’s often associated with COVID19.
“If problematic symptoms are detected, patients can send the audio data to a doctor for a further analysis.”
“We had a few small issues with ordering materials – some things were running a little slow because of the lockdown, but on the whole it was pretty straightforward. If you want to give it a try, you can find full instructions on Hackster.io.”
Watch the AI stethoscope in action. © Peter Ma
“Yeah, I have plenty! But it takes time to safety check them, document them and write them up. We actually do quite a bit of research: with anything health-related, you have to ask yourself, “Why hasn’t this happened before? Is it safe?”
“But I love the challenge of taking something expensive and finding a cheaper solution. I’ve already submitted a second idea to the challenge, for a low-cost hydrogen peroxide sterilizer based on an Arm Cortex-M0."
“That came about because of a conversation with a friend of mine who’s a doctor at our local hospital. I asked him how work was going, how he was coping, and he told me that he and his co-workers were having to reuse their PPE.
“Basically, there wasn’t enough to go round. They couldn’t dispose of it after each use, as they normally would, so they were keeping their masks and gowns in paper bags at the door of the intensive care unit.
“It got me thinking. If a rich country like the United States can’t provide enough PPE to guarantee the safety of its healthcare workers, what’s going to happen when the virus hits developing countries? I figured a sterilizer that's cheap and easy to make could help make a difference.
"I’m also working on a low-cost ventilator, thermal AI fever detection for public spaces, an indoor oxygen generator … there are plenty of ideas bubbling! And MixPose, my start up, allows people to take yoga classes at home, so I like to think that’s making some kind of contribution to keeping us all sane during lockdown!”
“I think this is one of times when we all have to pull together. If we’re going to beat COVID-19 – particularly in developing countries – it needs to be a global effort. Can we beat it? I hope so. But the challenge is a great way to get your ideas out there, and you can do it all from the comfort of your own home. It’s a socially distanced way to make a difference!”
Find Peter on Twitter @Nyceane and on Hackster.io.
Submissions for the Detect and Protect Challenge close on 30 June 2020. Ready to submit your ideas?
Join the Detect and Protect Challenge