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Essay: How the Internet of Things can combat pandemics such as Covid-19

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Here is how to use the Internet of Things to combat global pandemics like Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

The current wave of COVID-19 pandemic could not have come at a worse time for the global economy which was already showing signs of slowdown & recession. Even the growth engines of the world; China and India were battling economic fatigue and declining growth. Nearly every country across the world is forced to devote precious resources to fight this pandemic which includes long duration of public lock downs. This will further stress the already fragile economy of these countries. Technology, especially the Internet of Things could be used as a major tool to fight the spread of such pandemics and contain it with minimal economic loss and disruption. The Internet of things is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. Data is collected by sensors installed on end user devices which is sent to cloud servers for analytics and decision making. An early detection system is the best way to control infections into graduating rapidly to pandemic proportions. However, urbanization presents its own sets of challenges to monitor and contain any pandemic. By focusing on the commuting patterns of people, it is possible to simulate models to find the spread of the disease. Health Workers can quickly focus on patient zero and identify everyone who has come into contact with the infected person and move to quarantine / isolate those persons. Identifying infected persons and then quickly quarantining them is the next step to control the pandemic. Artificial Intelligence enabled sensors and interconnected security cameras can be used by health care professionals to monitor and enforce patient compliance in real time. devices with GPS can easily identify and track the movements of any patient under quarantine and prevent the spread of further community infection. In case of any emergency, driver less autonomous vehicles can be used to transport patients to a hospital and further reduce human to human interaction. A smartphone-based application with P4 medicine requirements (Predictive, Preventative, Personalized, Participatory) can assist healthcare professionals. It will be connected to a centralized database hosted on Cloud which will be available to all the healthcare professionals. Wearable devices can monitor body temperature, heartbeat, blood pressure and other variables. They can provide doctors with the data required for diagnosis. This will also reduce the stress on hospitals which may be running short of beds for infected persons. As the patient is treated while he is in quarantine, the subsequent risk of further infection is greatly reduced. Drones could also be used to supply medicines and essentials, thereby reducing human interaction which would drastically reduce new infections. Fumigation of the patient carriers/ambulances can be done through robots. Machine learning can be used to find new drugs for the treatment of the virus. Food Stores invariably face a huge demand as people tend to indulge in panic buying and stock up on items. This causes a severe stress on the supply-chain of these stores. Educational institutes can use Block chain based applications to keep track of their students, their learning and also issue digital certificates. Governments around the world can use location tracking data gleaned from the smartphones to prevent any large scale gathering of people and prevent community transmission of the virus during any outbreak.

The key to Internet of Things is the vast number of interconnected devices on a network. As multiple countries around the world enforced a complete lock down to contain the spread of the pandemic, companies asked their employees to work from home thereby reducing the spread of the infection. As a consequence, both data and voice traffic on networks shot up exponentially. As organizations across the world ramp up their operations and strive to serve their consumers, they are also faced with increased cyber security threat. Cyber criminals can exploit the weaknesses and vulnerabilities to exploit the connected devices and the network itself. This presents a challenge to the cyber security teams who must learn to evolve with the evolving threat perception. As work from home increases, users who don’t have the same quality of security ecosystem, as their office, may find themselves to be the target of directed phishing, vishing and ransomware attacks. Home Wi-Fi systems usually suffer from low degree of protection and may pose as an opportunity for hackers. Hackers and cyber criminals can exploit the public fear during a pandemic by offering them services which may have malware associated with them. Critical and sensitive facilities like hospitals & medical devices can be targeted by these criminals as the hackers may feel safe during the ensuing chaos. Distributed Denial of Service can be used to cause a breakdown in critical services and exact a heavy price. The current health crisis which has gripped the world can be seen as an inflection point between digital transformation and businesses. It has also impressed upon various stakeholders to invest more robustly in digital technologies. It is also a challenge to the security planners who have to guard against security threats and also ensure business continuity. Hospitals must have emergency backup systems which ensure seamless continuity of its operations and database. Rogue nations and intelligence agencies who attempt attacks on healthcare facilities must be warned of immediate kinetic consequences.

Standardized protocols, regulatory controls will allow seamless sharing of information and data between various devices. This will help in managing security breaches and dealing quickly with them. Adoption of universal standards will result in faster and more efficient response to any future disaster or pandemic. The socioeconomic disruption caused by COVID-19 will be a lasting one and poses a challenge to planners and leaders globally. Because of interconnected trade and business any future pandemic may spread rapidly globally and infect millions. Some countries may be less geared to tackle the crisis than others. But with challenges come opportunities. This is also an opportune time to test driver less cars on Indian roads when traffic is not there and to use drones for delivery & monitoring.


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