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Indian Researchers Develop Touchless Sensors to Minimise COVID-19 Spread

Indian scientists have provided an affordable solution to develop low-cost touch-cum-proximity sensors, popularly called touchless touch sensors, through a printing technique. The COVID-19 pandemic has driven public and private initiatives to create ways to reduce the risk of the virus spreading, particularly in public places where touchscreens on self-service kiosks, ATMs, and vending machines are necessary and unavoidable.

Recently, Bengaluru-based scientists from the Centre for Nano and Soft Matter Sciences (CeNS) and the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced and Scientific Research (JNCASR), autonomous institutes under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), have set up a semi-automated production plant to produce printing-aided patterned transparent electrodes (a resolution of around 300 micrometres). It has the potential to be utilised in advanced touchless screen technologies.

According to a press release, the initiative was led by Professor G. U. Kulkarni and his team and was sponsored by the DST-Nanomission at CeNS. The work has been published recently in the journal Materials Letters. An official from the team said that they fabricated a touch sensor that can sense a proximal or hover touch even from a distance of 9 centimetres from the device. Dr Indrajit Mondal, who co-authored the research, explained that the team is making several more prototypes using their patterned electrodes to prove their feasibility for other smart electronic applications. Industry players and research institutions and labs can access the technology on a request basis and through collaborative projects. The patterned transparent electrodes could be used in advanced smart electronic devices like touchless screens and sensors.

Technology has helped India and countries around the world combat the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic. Governments, start-ups, and academia have collaborated to digitise business operations, transform education, optimise the delivery and improve the quality of healthcare. Earlier this year, researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology in Jodhpur (IIT-Jodhpur) created an artificial intelligence (AI) model that can detect COVID-19 by examining the chest X-ray of patients. As earlier reported by OpenGov Asia, the team proposed a deep learning-based algorithm called COMiT-Net, which learns the abnormalities present in the chest X-ray images to differentiate between an affected lung and a non-affected lung. It can also identify infected regions of the lungs.

The AI-based solution is an alternative to the regular RT PCR tests conducted across the world and can help ease the growing pressure on governments to procure testing kits and set up processing centres. Researchers from the institute have proposed a deep learning-based algorithm, COMiT-Net, which learns the abnormalities present in the chest X-ray images to differentiate between a COVID-19 affected lung and a non-COVID affected lung. The experiment was performed with more than 2,500 chest X-ray images and achieved about 96.80% sensitivity.

Researchers around the world are working to find alternate testing methods that are reliable, easily accessible, and faster. As symptoms of the virus are visible on chest X-rays, it has become one of the modalities that have gained acceptance as a screening technique. While there have been numerous research studies in COVID-19 detection using X-ray or CT scans in the past couple of years, most of them fail to provide an explainable solution. Experts have said that the AI solution is explainable from both algorithmic and medical points of view.

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