Mobile devices playing a role in self-testing for Sprint COVID-19 initiative
A large number of Coronavirus patients suffer from hypoxemia – even people without symptoms – which can be detected through blood oxygen levels. Using the Sp02 sensor (which is found in many smart devices), people can self-test their blood-oxygen level and take appropriate steps to self-isolate if their level is below 90%.
Here, the CEO at Luminati Networks, Or Lenchner tells VanillaPlus about the company’s recent Sprint COVID-19 initiative which aims to test blood oxygen levels, by using smartphone devices.
What factors influenced your decision to participate in the Sprint COVID-19 initiative?
Or Lenchner: As a key player in the online data collection domain, we have a unique opportunity to observe trends in real-time as they evolve and happen around the world. When we realised that the outbreak was becoming a pandemic, we naturally wanted to help in any way which we could.
We immediately offered all COVID-19 researchers worldwide the opportunity to use our data collection automation (DCA) solution to accelerate their research. With a pandemic of this size, we knew that we needed to equip the people fighting it with the most up-to-date intelligence and information possible. As a company that usually works with large-scale organisations in the e-commerce and travel sector, we are used to collecting massive amounts of publicly available data in short time frames.
Sprint COVID-19 approached us once our initiative became public. The project Luminati Networks participated in was aimed at using smart devices to help enable early COVID-19 detection and prevent mass infection. We quickly assessed the situation and knew we could provide all the data needed for this specific project.
Can you walk us through your company? How is it organised during the pandemic?
As a market provider of data collection domain, we focus on helping organisations collect openly available online data in an ethical manner. Our technology allows companies to simulate the average consumer as an iPhone user in California or an Android user in Switzerland for example, to get an unobstructed view of the internet, the same as a real consumer might get. Now that the world has moved to “living” online, our team knew that time was of the essence when it came to providing the data needed to fight COVID-19.
We prioritise working fast to deliver the best solution to our customers as quickly as possible. Luminati releases over 40 version updates daily – an unprecedented number. We are structured with the aim of maximising speed and efficiency, with a leading research & development (R&D) and product team, 24-hour around the clock support and deployment teams and a very comprehensive compliance department.
As we are committed to web-transparency, we know that this mission can only be delivered by maintaining strict guidelines and an ethical by design approach. Our customers are well-aware of standards when it comes to ethics, and select us as their partner for that reason in addition to the standard of performance. This is a rapidly growing domain, and I believe with the world shifting to online at a speed never seen before – the need for data will meet the growing consumer activities and will multiply.
As a predominantly online company – we are used to working remotely, so no changes were implemented – we are fully present everywhere and obviously fully active 24/7.
What are the main features of the Sprint COVID-19 initiative?
The initiative that we were involved with was to build an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered COVID-19 assessment tool. It’s a machine-learning algorithm that helps track the spread of the disease by analysing user input for mild and asymptomatic cases. User input includes blood saturation levels that can be measured through a sensor on a smartphone – Luminati helped assess what percentage of the population globally has access to phones with the right kind of sensor (SpO2), and discovered it’s more than enough to make results statistically significant.
What is the significance of using mobile devices to develop a heuristic test that can detect coronavirus?
Sprint COVID-19 approached us based on latest research coming out of China and Italy – according to that research 30%-50% of their COVID-19 infected population suffered from silent hypoxia. This means having a low level of oxygen in the blood, without any obvious shortness of breath or other visible symptoms, which translates to a higher chance of them infecting other people without even knowing it.
Sprint COVID-19 found that many commonly-owned smartphones or smartwatch devices have a built-in sensor, known as a SpO2 sensor, that can enable testing your own blood oxygen levels independently and easily which could be a key first step in identifying the virus early. Based on those results, the team developed a heuristic test that can be carried out on smartphones and smartwatches to identify asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic, and mild cases which would otherwise go undetected. The team turned to Luminati to identify which of the possible 8,000 different device models were able to deploy this test.
We knew time was of the utmost essence in this sprint to conquer COVID-19 so we quickly used data collection automation to sift through the mass amount of publicly-available online data to identify all suitable smart devices. We quickly found that smart devices carrying the SpO2 sensor included many older smartphone models. I own one of these models and have tried out the test myself and it definitely does the trick.
Moving forwards we were able to assess 8,000 models of different smart devices. In just under 24 hours, we found out that over 110 smartphone models and 165 smartwatch models and smart bands have this sensor to test blood oxygen levels
How does your initiative work in aiding the fight against the spread of coronavirus?
Sprint COVID-19 teams are dedicated to finding technological solutions for the pandemic challenges: from providing alternative ventilators to mass non-invasive testing, from medical staff personal protection equipment (PPE) through triage-supporting systems, to communication with the families of ICU (intensive care unit) patients and self-diagnosis for early disease detection – this is the project Luminati is helping to tackle. The initiative is led by Assuta Hospital in Ashdod, Israel together with AWS Israel and Raphael Technology, and it includes engineers, and medical staff as well as software experts.
Are there any data privacy risks when using your new solution?
Sprint COVID-19 is working closely with hospitals, the Israeli Ministry of Health and IT security experts to ensure we protect the privacy of our users and patients. Each solution created by Sprint COVID-19 is carefully evaluated and all projects go through IRB (Helsinki committee in Israel). The teams are fully committed to meeting security standards. No project becomes active without meeting global data security standards.
How important is it that your solutions are user-friendly? Is it easily accessible to the older population?
It’s imperative as we are all impacted by the crisis. The sensor is already present on a wide-range of smart devices and no additional app or software is needed. The most important aspect is finding a compatible device, and this is where we were able to assist.
While many of us fight this from the comfort of our homes, the people in the field – doctors, nurses, hospital admins – face an unprecedented influx of patients, and have to make life-and-death decisions quickly, day in and day out. The last thing we want them to deal with are cumbersome interfaces and unfriendly user interfaces (UIs). That is why our teams include UX (user experience) experts to meet this specific aspect of COVID-19 challenges. Our goal is to enable the wider population to test themselves using one of the most accessible tools possible – your own smart device.
What potential opportunities have you come across while implementing the Sprint COVID-19 initiative?
I believe the innovations released by Sprint COVID-19 could serve the medical community in the future after the pandemic has passed. The adaptive ventilator split set-up enables parallel ventilation, individual monitoring, and ventilation pressures’ control for each separate patient. Easy to make and wear PPE would protect physicians anywhere. A machine-learning algorithm for doctor decision-support is really a glance into the future of care – there’s more and more data, which becomes harder to analyse for a human and easier to do so for an ever-learning algorithm. When looking at a remote diagnostic tool – the possibilities are endless. I can go on and on.
What are some of the challenges when it comes to deployment and operation of such a system?
Challenges to deployment and operations are the regular challenges in deploying healthcare tech or medical equipment. Ensuring collaboration with the right hospital teams, meeting high healthcare standards and addressing privacy concerns all need to be conquered.
In our current situation all these challenges are enhanced tenfold, because we are working in an environment that’s stretched to capacity by the ongoing pandemic. It’s for that reason everything has to be clearer, more precise and demonstrate both a high and immediate impact.
So far, I’m proud to say, we hear highly positive feedback from the medical staff and health care execs.
Can you foresee any possible uses for the Sprint COVID-19 initiative after the pandemic is over?
The initiative that we were involved with has the potential to change the relationship between ourselves and our smart devices forever. Smartphones, watches and gadgets have always been important for tracking the user’s health, but as we have seen in this instance, they can go one step further than just monitoring fitness. To make the largest impact, users need to have a clear idea of the potential of their smart devices and technology providers need to work closely with medical experts so they can realise the potential they hold.