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Defence

Published on: June 3, 2020, 10:30 p.m.
Defence against Covid-19
  • Innovative products in the making

By Sumit Ghoshal. Contributing Editor, Business India

The campaign against Covid-19 (abbreviation for Corona Virus Disease 2019) is happening on many fronts at the same time, in India as well as the rest of the world. While doctors, nurses, and other members of the healthcare profession are correctly described as ‘frontline warriors’ they are amply supported by a broad canvas of other people.

Researchers in bio-sciences, engineers, and communication professionals form an important part of this. Equally significant are organisations such as DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisations) and its partners including Bharat Dynamics, INMAS (Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences), and so forth.

Leading the pack is the DRDO, which is normally focused entirely on ballistic missiles and weapon systems, but is now devoting a lot of time and resources to products designed to counter the Covid-19 pandemic. It has come out with an impressive series of innovative products and sealed agreements with a long list of manufacturing partners to scale up the production of these items.

Just this month, it announced the development of what it calls a Suraksha Kawach, a multi-probe temperature scanner, an EconoWISK, and a multi-purpose door opener. These are just a few illustrative examples, not a complete list. In addition, Bharat Dynamics, widely considered as DRDO’s manufacturing partner, has put together a low-cost ventilator in association with Nocca Robotics, a start-up company incubated by IIT Kanpur.
 
DRDO’s Suraksha Kawach is intended as a tamper-proof solution for the tracking of Covid-19 patients. The device, based on IoT (Internet of Things) technology, requires the subject being tracked and monitored to wear an armband or ankle-band which is then linked to a GPS. A system for multiple alerts to be sent to local administrative bodies and city police are incorporated into the software. In addition, the system can also be integrated with Arogya Setu or any other mobile application through a Bluetooth low energy chip. Even better, the battery will last for approximately 21 days which would cover the quarantine period of most non-symptomatic patients who happen to test Covid-positive.

Sometime last month, engineering students and medical experts in Kerala put their heads together to build a WISK (Walk-in Swab collection Kiosk). The idea was that the healthcare worker conducting the Covid-19 test could sit inside the kiosk with proper protection for themselves, while the person being tested sits on a chair placed in front. The health worker inserts his hand into a pair of gloves and takes the swab sample from the subject’s mouth and nose. The kiosk can be set up anywhere within a short time, and a large number of people examined very swiftly. Now the DRDO has gone one step ahead, building a cheaper version known as the Econo-WISK. This is designed as an assembly of durable rexine and transparent plastic sheet over an easy to assemble frame made of square tubes of mild steel. There is a wooden base with a linoleum sheet, as well as a detachable table outside the kiosk. The product is easy to assemble at the site and has a better internal air circulation scheme. The product is designed considering Indian anthropometric parameters, thereby enhancing the ergonomics.

Another promising device designed by the DRDO scientific team is a multi-purpose door opener, which enables a potentially infected person to use a variety of touchpoints such as door handles, ATM entrances, elevator keypads, etc without actually touching them with his hand. The gadget has two main components – a hook and cover. When a door handle, cupboard, etc has to be opened, the hook connects with the door and opens it in much the same way as we use our fingers. The tip of the hook can be used to operate keypads or lifts, ATM touchpads, etc. The cover of the tool enables the user to sanitise the used surface immediately afterward. The most interesting aspect is that the entire device can be 3D printed, rather than manufactured mechanically.

Bharat Dynamics, on the other hand, has agreed to manufacture a particular type of affordable ventilator in association with Nocca Robotics. “I am truly impressed by what the young engineers from IIT Kanpur have been able to achieve in such a short time and I hope that more such innovative solutions will come from Indian technopreneurs. I am happy that BDL has partnered with IIT Kanpur in the manufacture of these ventilators on a large scale. Together, we will strive to serve the nation at this critical hour,” said Commodore Siddharth Mishra (Retd), Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL). Nocca Robotics, based in Bhosari, Pune, has designed and developed a high-end yet affordable, indigenous ventilator necessary for providing life support to critically ill COVID-19 patients. The project was implemented under the overall supervision of an IIT Kanpur team led by Prof. Amitabha Bandyopadhyay. At the helm of this innovation are three young graduates of IIT Kanpur – Nikhil Kurele, Harshit Rathore and Tushar Agarwal.

Apart from providing support to the critical patient, the ventilator’s design also has unique features to safeguard the frontline healthcare workers. This is done with the help of ultraviolet air filters which reduce the virus load of the air being delivered to the patient. The device, which is expected to cost substantially less than Rs5-8 lakh, the price range of currently available ventilators, is being tested at two Pune hospitals at the moment. If the tests prove successful, Bharat Dynamics has plans to produce 10,000 pieces by the end of July.

Finally, a combined team comprising of the Innovation Cell of the Institute of Naval Medicine and the Naval Dockyard, both in Mumbai have joined hands to design a special type of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). It is supposed to be worn by healthcare workers and others who are required to handle patients infected with the Corona Virus. The PPE is particularly important inside the ICU (intensive care units) which caters to the most seriously ill patients.

The outstanding features of the PPE are its simple, innovative, and cost-effective design. Hence it does not require very expensive and technologically advanced equipment and can be produced by basic gown manufacturing facilities. Rapid scaling up of numbers is therefore not a difficult task. The PPE is noteworthy for the innovative choice of fabric used, which gives the PPE its 'breathability' and penetration resistance rendering it both comfortable and safe for the user. This is a major issue reported by thousands of users who have to keep it on for as long as six to eight hours at a stretch. Many of them develop skin rashes and eruptions because they perspire extensively but there is no avenue for the sweat to evaporate.

To ensure that the product meets the highest quality standards, it has gone through extensive testing at the INMAS, which is part of the Indian Navy establishment.

These products are ample testimony to the fact that Indian scientists and researchers, including those who are working at our much-maligned Public Sector Undertakings, are as capable as any others, especially when faced with a major challenge.

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