Surveillance device uses AI to detect coughing and crowd size in real time

20 Mar 2020

Image: © RFBSIP/

This week in future tech, as scientists try to tackle the coronavirus, one team has developed AI designed to detect coughs.

A research team from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has invented a portable surveillance device called FluSense, which is designed to detect coughing and crowd size in real time. With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to spread, it’s hoped the device can be used in hospitals and healthcare waiting rooms to forecast seasonal flu and pandemics.

Between December 2018 and July 2019, the FluSense platform collected and analysed more than 350,000 thermal images and 21m non-speech audio samples from the public waiting areas.

The researchers found that FluSense was able to accurately predict daily illness rates at the university clinic.

“I’ve been interested in non-speech body sounds for a long time,” said Tauhidur Rahman, co-author of the research. “I thought if we could capture coughing or sneezing sounds from public spaces where a lot of people naturally congregate, we could utilise this information as a new source of data for predicting epidemiologic trends.”

The team now hopes to test the device in public areas beyond the hospital setting.

Ireland achieves record-breaking wind levels

EirGrid has revealed that just under half of all electricity in the first two months of 2020 came from wind farms. In February alone, the national grid achieved a new record with 56pc of electricity demand being met by wind energy.

The previous record was held in February 2019 when a figure of 47pc was achieved, while in January 2020 it was 41pc.

EirGrid said that this is an indication that Ireland is on track to meet its target of 40pc of Ireland’s electricity demand being met by renewables by the end of this year. In the 12 months to the end of January 2020, solar, hydro and biomass accounted for 37pc of demand.

Mark Foley, EirGrid chief executive, commented: “These figures are reassuring in the context of our 2020 target and a clear demonstration of the continually evolving capabilities of the power system, which was designed for conventional generation such as coal, gas or oil.”

New rubber-like material could replace human tissue

Researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have created a new rubber-like material which could act as a replacement for human tissue in medical procedures.

In the development of medtech solutions, materials that may be surgically placed in the human body can come with many risks, including infections. However, this new material allows its surface to be treated to make it antibacterial and non-toxic.

This is achieved by sticking antimicrobial peptides – small proteins that are part of our immune system – onto its surface. This can help reduce the need for antibiotics, an important contribution in the fight against growing antibiotic resistance.

Because it is injected via keyhole surgery, the material can drastically reduce the need for operations to rebuild parts of the body.

“The first application we are looking at now is urinary catheters,” said Martin Andersson, who led the research. “The material can be constructed in such a way that prevents bacteria from growing on the surface, meaning it is very well suited for medical uses.”

The research is published to ACS Nano.

American auto firms could start producing ventilators

American automakers including Tesla, Ford and General Motors are considering shifting its manufacturing sites to make ventilators to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. According to CNN, the US is just one of many nations growing concerned over the number of ventilators available in its hospitals, with the most severe Covid-19 patients losing the ability to breath independently.

In a statement, Ford said: “As America’s largest producer of vehicles and top employer of autoworkers, Ford stands ready to help the administration in any way we can, including the possibility of producing ventilators and other equipment.

“We have had preliminary discussions with the US government and are looking into the feasibility.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a brief tweet that the electric vehicle producer will make ventilators “if there is a shortage”.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic