Troubleshooting Coronavirus with Technology

April 08, 2020

The data collected from smartphones is helping during the coronavirus in a number of ways in countries across the world. Here are some ways that governments and private businesses are troubleshooting the spread of coronavirus with technology.


In France, residents are required to fill out a form that shows why they’ve left their homes to ensure they’re only doing it for approved reasons, such as visits to the grocery store or the pharmacy. At first, the government gave a link to the form that users could download and print out. However, this was problematic because not everyone had access to a printer. Now, they’ve made the form electronic, so users can download it to their smartphone and fill it out. Once they’ve e-signed it, the time and date are stamped onto the form. If the person is stopped by police who are enforcing the quarantine, they can show their form with the timestamp to show where they planned to go and the time they left their house. The timestamp both protects the user who has a legitimate reason to be out and about, and also dissuades those who try to use the form more than once. 


In China, a new smartphone app asks citizens if they are experiencing symptoms related to coronavirus. It also tracks their locations to see if they’ve been near anyone who has been diagnosed or quarantined because of coronavirus. If the user is not showing symptoms and has not been exposed, they get a green symbol that shows it’s safe for them to be out and about and to use public transportation. Security and police are patrolling the streets and public spaces and asking users to show their green health codes to help contain the continued spread of the virus.


In the U.S., user location data is used to show which states are social distancing. Unacast, a company that already collects GPS location data from phones, has released a scoreboard grading states and counties by how well they’re social distancing. Although the data is not being used to enforce social distancing, it is being used to help track how well social distancing is working and compare it to the spread of coronavirus. 


Although they’re still in testing, there are a number of technology companies that are working on ways to test users at home to determine whether they have coronavirus. One app will listen to the sound of the user’s cough to diagnose whether they have covid-19. Another lets the user take an at-home blood test and upload the results via their smartphone to test to see if they have the antibodies for coronavirus. If the user does have the antibodies, they may be immune – at least for a specific period of time – and could return to work.


In another exciting development, Rosetta@Home is asking smartphone users across the world to “donate” some of their computing power to helping with the science of finding a cure for coronavirus. The company has built a program that runs through the protein structure of the virus and potential mini protein combinations that could be used to fight it. User can connect both their smartphones and Raspberry Pi’s to the network to boost CPU to try to find a cure via complex algorithms.