During the COVID-19 pandemic, the SEMI Global Advocacy team has been working tirelessly to ensure the microelectronics manufacturing and design supply chain is classified as an “essential business” in the United States and for similar designations in several other countries so that SEMI member companies can maintain operations. Their efforts have included direct lobbying and letters to the governors of 16 states in the U.S., 23 European countries and several European Union officials across the continent, as well as government officials in Japan, Mexico and Malaysia. The bedrock of these efforts, and the reason they have been highly effective, is that our industry enables both modern digital infrastructure and technology critical in the fight against the virus.
SEMI takes immense pride in highlighting the role of our industry in providing the building blocks for innovations that improve social and economic prosperity the world over. It is never more apparent that necessity is the mother of invention than during a crisis, and the pandemic has created a diverse range of demands for technological advancements to address the myriad of challenges it presents. Our SEMI Tech Spotlight blog series highlights some of the many ways that our industry and member companies are enabling technology employed on the front lines of this fight – and that we strongly believe will ultimately help to win it. Our first piece in this series focuses on platforms enabled by big data and artificial intelligence.
Fighting the Pandemic with Big Data-AI Enabled Platforms
The COVID-19 pandemic is testing humanity in unprecedented ways, but it is also uniting us to fight this crisis with the best weapons we have. Big data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies – built with microelectronic chips and systems that generate, transmit, store and analyze data – are making a profound contribution to our arsenal for this protracted war. Big data-AI technologies are enabling platforms such as data analytics, robotics, augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR), 3D printing, and others that are already being applied to address many facets of this crisis.
Big Data and Analytics Inform Policy
In the fight against COVID-19, data analytics platforms are being used first and foremost to slow the rapid spread and to inform policy decisions. This requires analysis of massive amounts of data about public health and travel, often using AI algorithms. The state of California, for example, is partnering with companies such as BlueDot, Esri and Facebook to build a software platform that uses smartphones and location intelligence to track people’s movement and predict hospital needs.
Taiwan owes its considerable success in limiting the spread of the virus to the extensive use of big data analytics for identifying and tracking carriers. Google and Apple are driving a joint effort that connects Bluetooth with their popular iOS and Android platforms to trace contacts of infected people. India has developed Aarogya Setu, a mobile app based on Bluetooth and location-mapping platforms, designed to alert citizens if they have crossed paths with another app user who has tested positive for the virus. This app was launched in 11 languages, and despite being entirely voluntary, it was downloaded by 50 million people in 13 days, making it the world’s fastest-ever to reach that number.
Such contact-tracing apps, now being rolled out in at least 26 countries, carry inherent privacy and security challenges due to the sensitive data they access. While mitigation strategies like strict data anonymity and opt-in protocols are being implemented, these will need to be refined over time.
Robotics Protect Frontline Soldiers
Today’s robust robotics platforms are enabled by huge amounts of data from sensors and guidance from predictive AI algorithms. These robots can learn on the job, adapt to the environment, and work safely with humans. In this pandemic, they are perfect for minimizing human interaction with infectious environments. Companies around the world such as Boston Dynamics, Akara Robotics, UBTECH Robotics and CloudMinds have already deployed robots on the front lines of this war to assess patient health, disinfect hospital surfaces, and help health workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Robot drones are also delivering blood and other lab samples. For example, WakeMed hospitals in North Carolina launched the first drone delivery program approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration with Matternet drones operated by UPS; while Terra Drone from Japan executed similar tasks in the hard-hit Wuhan province of China.
3D Printing Speeds Manufacturing
Big data-AI technologies enable 3D printing platforms by providing accurate 3D models for optimized designs and defect-free manufacturing. Low-cost, fast-cycle-time 3D printing has helped to alleviate at least some of the medical equipment shortages. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first 3D-printed “Stopgap Face Mask” for liquid barrier protection from the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus for healthcare workers. The U.S. Veterans Health Administration has developed this in collaboration with America Makes using an open-source database – the 3D Print Exchange from the National Institutes of Health.
In another example, Formlabs worked with Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare provider, and University of South Florida (USF) Health to develop and test a nasal swab prototype over just one weekend, and it is now producing up to 150,000 test swabs daily. Prisma Health in South Carolina received emergency FDA authorization for VESper, a 3D printed device that allows a single ventilator to support two patients, and possibly up to four.
Telehealth Becomes a “New Normal”
Telehealth is not a new concept but is much enhanced by today’s microelectronics platforms that can collect and transmit rich datasets with very low latency. Further, rapid data analysis is increasingly supported by AI systems. The requirement for social distancing makes telehealth a perfect solution for many healthcare consultations. U.S. government data indicates that the daily average of telehealth claims from private insurance for upper respiratory infections increased nearly 12 times over the previous month from March 14 to April 1. Similarly, Teladoc Health coordinated 100,000 patient “televisits” in the week of March 8 – a 50 percent spike over the previous week, taking pressure off the healthcare system.
The next generation of telehealth is likely to use AR/VR platforms, which use even richer datasets and AI to improve the accuracy and predictive capability of their underlying models. Consequently, these platforms can provide more realistic experiences and improved outcomes. At least 11 states in the U.S. are already working with AR/VR companies such as XRHealth and AppliedVR for primary care and many medical specialties.
Accelerating the Search for a Vaccine or Treatment
The way out of this pandemic depends on swiftly finding a vaccine and a treatment, ideally by fast-tracking the traditionally slow drug development process. Big data-AI technologies are at the forefront of such efforts globally, often using the most powerful supercomputers available. For example, researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are using the Frontera supercomputer to build a complete model of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus envelope – a formidable task, requiring analysis of data from 200 million atoms and interactions between them.
Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory are combining AI with physics-based models to search for a molecule that might disrupt the activity of the virus, a precursor to finding a treatment. Also, several companies around the globe such as BenevolentAI (UK), Gero (Singapore), Innoplexus (Germany-India), and Insilico Medicine (US-Hong Kong) are using AI platforms to accelerate the search for a solution.
Ultimately, the success of technology is not measured by the number of bits and bytes or by the speed of algorithms. It is measured by every janitor who did not have to clean a hazardous surface because a robot did, by every doctor and nurse protected by a 3D-printed mask, and by every person whose life may be saved by the accelerated discovery of a vaccine or treatment. Big data-AI technologies, and the platforms they enable, are just coming of age – they give us hope that as they evolve in the future, we can use them to build a more resilient society and economy.
Note/Disclaimer: The examples cited above are purely for illustration – they are neither comprehensive, nor intended to endorse any particular product or solution.
The SEMI Smart Data & AI initiative helps members realize full value in the intelligent future enabled by Big Data and Artificial Intelligence – including the large revenue upside, and the transformational potential for operational and supply-chain efficiency. For more information on the initiative, contact Pushkar Apte at email@example.com.
Ajit Manocha is President and CEO of SEMI. Pushkar P. Apte, Ph.D., is the Strategic Technology Advisor for the Smart Data & AI Initiative at SEMI.