Earlier this week, the Ministry of Human Resource Development asked all the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) to prepare short and long term technological solutions that could help deal with the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. Thus far, the various branches of the IITs have been involved in developing everything from cost-efficient hand sanitisers, testing kits, personal protective equipment to an app to monitor those violating quarantines and proposing cheaper alternatives to address real shortfalls in ventilators.
Given below is a quick round-up of some of things they have done so far:
IIT-Guwahati: PCR Machines, Hand Sanitisers, Robot Units, Drones
In the first few weeks of the global COVID-19 epidemic, the institute prepared hand sanitisers to its various departments and centres. It is currently on the verge of preparing around 5,000 bottles of sanitiser for the Guwahati Medical College and Hospital (GMCH) and the Assam government. More importantly, the institute claims to have provided “two real-time PCR machines to GMCH for the diagnosis of the Coronavirus”.
These machines can analyse 2,000 samples over the course of 24 hours. “Furthermore, faculty members also have developed a PCR machine in-house which has been patented and is ready for commercialization whereas portable OFET sensors fabricated at the Institute could be integrated for COVID diagnosis,” claims the institute in a recently issued press release.
Going further, the institute is currently working on developing “robot-based drug/food carrying unit to work in isolation wards and robot-based screening units, large and high capacity autoclave machine, handheld temperature measuring units, full face shields, hospital beds, ventilators, medical waste disposal in the isolation wards, shower for disinfection…prototype protective gears with antiviral and superhydrophobic coatings.”
Meanwhile a group of students have developed a drone with an automated sprayer to sanitise large public spaces like parks, roads and footpaths to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This student group runs a startup called “Racerfly”, and they have approached the Assam and Uttarakhand government. What would otherwise take a day of work, this sprayer system can accomplish it in less than 15 minutes.
They are also on the verge of setting up an advanced BSL-III/IV laboratory for COVID-19 analysis, which would help the entire Northeast region to test for the virus.
IIT-Delhi: Testing Kit, Infection Proof Fabric, Ventilator
At IIT-Delhi, researchers have developed a ‘probe-free detection assay’ for COVID-19, which they believe can significantly bring down the cost of testing for COVID-19 and make it affordable for many citizens. At present, the National Institute of Virology in Pune is in the midst of validating this test kit on clinical samples.
Although the Centre has capped the price of COVID-19 tests by private laboratories at Rs 4,500, the researchers claim that they can perform the test at a much cheaper cost, although they have refused to comment on the cost difference at this juncture.
Speaking to the press, Professor Vivekanandan Permula, the lead member of the team, said, “Using comparative sequence analysis, we have identified unique regions in COVID-19. These unique regions are not present in other human coronaviruses providing an opportunity to specifically detect COVID-19. Once the NIV validates the assay, it can be quickly scaled up to meet the increasing need in our country.”
“This assay can be used as a qualitative (yes or no) assay without the need for extensive instrumentation. In addition, it can also quantitatively assess virus loads. We propose the use of this assay for specific and affordable high throughput screening of COVID 19,” added Parul Gupta and Prashant Pradhan, members of the team.
An IIT-Delhi incubated startup ‘Fabiosys Innovations’, has developed an infection-proof fabric that doctors and nurses could use to prevent hospital-acquired infections. “We take rolls of cotton fabric and treat it with a set of proprietary-developed chemicals under a set of particular reaction conditions, using the machinery already commonly available in textile industries. The fabric, after undergoing these processes, gains the powerful antimicrobial functionality,” Samrat Mukhopadhyay, a professor at the Department of Textile and Fibre Engineering in IIT-Delhi, told PTI. This washable fabric can be stitched into uniforms for patients, doctors and nurses, besides bed sheets and curtains. The institute has collaborated with AIIMS-Delhi for a pilot run of this product.
Our scientists from @iitdelhi and doctors from #AIIMS Delhi have invented this #ventilator at reasonable cost, higher efficiency and wide application. We need an entrepreneur who can leverage capital to scale up production #IndiaFightsCorona @anandmahindra @RNTata2000 @kiranshaw pic.twitter.com/nLWLvD823I
— Sanjay Bhattacharyya (@SecySanjay) March 31, 2020
IIT Bombay: Corontine App
One of the biggest concerns during the current COVID-19 outbreak has been the inability of suspected COVID-19 carriers to stay under quarantine. By coming into contact with many people, those who test positive risk spreading the virus to many other unsuspecting persons.
To address this specific problem, a team of researchers at IIT-Bombay and alumni have developed ‘Corontine’, a mobile application that can help track suspected (asymptomatic) carriers of the virus under quarantine. Once a carrier is registered, the app can track them to see if they are staying confined to quarantine zones.
As per this Times of India report, “The app sends the phone’s GPS coordinates periodically to a server. If a user leaves a quarantine zone marked by a geo-fence, it will auto-detect. Similarly, if a phone is abandoned and the same coordinates keep buzzing into the server, a call can be made to check if the patient responds.”
Such apps can potentially help over-burdened state agencies to track suspected patients.
IIT-Roorkee: Herbal hand sanitiser
Two students of IIT-Roorkee – Siddharth Sharma and Viabhav Jain – have prepared more than 150 litres of herbal hand sanitiser in line with recommendations offered by the World Health Organization and the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Distributed free of cost on campus, this hand sanitizer can help maintain personal hygiene. One of the most important COVID-19 prevention techniques is the regular cleaning of hands. To reduce the risk of contamination, experts have recommended keeping sanitizers at hand.
IIT-Hyderabad: Hand sanitiser, Proposal for low-cost Ambu bags
Researchers at IIT-Hyderabad last month developed their own hand sanitiser as per standards recommended by WHO and CDC. They have distributed it around their campus.
“The composition of this hand sanitizer is 70 per cent isopropanol with glycerol, polypropylene glycol to increase the viscosity and reduce the volatility so that the sanitizer stays on skin to allow action, as well as lemongrass oil for antimicrobial activity and therapeutic aroma. The 70 per cent IPA solution penetrates the cell wall, coagulates all proteins, and therefore the microorganism dies,” says their press release.
Meanwhile, Prof B S Murty, Director of IIT-H and Prof V Eswaran of the institute’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department, have proposed a low-cost solution to provide ventilator support. As per their proposed design of such a device, it will cost less than Rs 5,000 as against the modest hospital ventilators costing about Rs six lakh.
“The most common is the bag valve mask, known by proprietary name Ambu Bag, used for resuscitation in emergency situations. Since these devices are hand-powered, unsuitable for continuous use, we can easily design a similar device powered by sources like car batteries. It could be made portable for use in areas without a power supply,” they told the media.
IIT-Kanpur & IIT-Madras-incubated startup: Free online tutorials, Ventilators
Amidst the nationwide lockdown following the outbreak of COVID-19, IIT-Kanpur has announced the provision of free online tutorials in Python to universities all over the world.
“Popular globally, Python is an interpreted high-level general-purpose programming language. The free online support would be provided through Prutor.ai, a proprietary suite developed at IIT-K. Prutor, which offers many specialised online courses, has already been adopted by IIT Mumbai, IIT Goa, IIT Madras and other leading institutions to teach coding,” says this Business Standard report.
Meanwhile, a team of innovators from IIT Kanpur’s incubator company Nocca Robotics has developed an invasive ventilator that will cost Rs 50,000. At present, the startup has three prototypes of this portable machine ready. In a week’s time, they will test the machine on patients.
GUVI, an IIT-Madras-incubated startup, has stepped in to offer online IT-skilling courses to students preparing for campus placements free of cost till the end of this month. “We need to ensure the safety of students through all possible measures while also ensuring that they have the requisite skills for bright job prospects. GUVI is contributing in a small but significant manner towards these goals, to ensure the students acquire the right skills and are employable. Our hiring partners have also been gracious in supporting us in this initiative,” says SP Balamurugan, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, GUVI.
IIT-Kharagpur: Hand Sanitiser, COVID-19 Awareness Videos
A 20-member student group at the institute have made videos in 12 regional languages— Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Odia, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu — to raise awareness about COVID-19 based on an advisory issued by WHO. They wanted to help increase the reach through messages in the vernacular. Meanwhile, researchers have also developed two different alcohol-based hand sanitisers.
Most of these ideas and innovations are in their preliminary stage. With the epidemic showing no signs of abating, there is no questions these institutions will have to step up their efforts.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)