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Covid-19 update: 25 June 2020

25 Jun 2020

A round-up of this week's coronavirus-related news and countermeasures from the photonics industry.

An international team of experts in virology, immunology, aerosols, centered on photonics research hub ICFO, Barcelona, Spain, have analyzed the possible methods to prevent Covid-19 propagation in indoor spaces. Their primary conclusion is that, among the many countermeasures being deployed worldwide, virus deactivation by ultraviolet light is a particularly attractive choice.

In a study published in the journal ACS Nano, ICREA Professor at ICFO Javier García de Abajo and his collaborators report on how transmission of the virus can be reduced effectively and economically.

The ICFO website summarizes: “Several measures are being adopted to help prevent the airborne or hard surface transmission of this disease. The common ones refer to facial masks and other physical barriers that if properly used have proven to be highly effective but that however depend on compliance of the population.”

A series of studies suggest that virus transmission in indoor spaces has a much higher transmission rate than outdoors. Filters and chemicals are possible solutions to minimize this problem, but even though these are efficient solutions, their installation can be costly and time-consuming.

UV light recommended

Following this ICFO-based survey, the scientists advocate one measure that they consider to be particularly efficient, easily deployable, and economically affordable: virus deactivation by ultraviolet light.

The study gives information on the currently available UV-C sources, such as fluorescent lamps, microcavity plasmas, and LEDs, emphasizing that, by irradiating this type of light inside the ventilation systems of buildings and in shared indoor spaces while not in use, it is possible to quickly and efficiently deactivate airborne and surface-deposited SARS-CoV-2 viruses.

They also explore costs and investments in deploying such technology and argue that a global capital investment of a few billion dollars in UV-C sources could protect of the order of ~10^9 indoor workers worldwide.

Velodyne Lidar has announced a multi-year partnership agreement with Outsight, a company developing systems for “smart city monitoring”. Outsight uses Velodyne Lidar sensing technology in its 3D Semantic Camera system to help clients improve the analysis and management of people flow in crowded environments.

“Outsight uses Velodyne’s lidar technology to bring a totally new approach to real-time situational awareness on what’s happening in busy spaces, such as airports”

Velodyne’s lidar sensors enable the 3D Semantic Camera solution to capture 3D data and track people and objects in a way that preserves anonymity. In one Smart City application, 3D Semantic Cameras are deployed at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport (pictured, left) to optimize passenger journeys, improve queue and asset management, and enhance compliance and safety.

Social distancing

Outsight’s 3D Semantic Cameras can also be deployed to support social distancing and public health. The solution can track individuals based on selected criteria, such as lack of physical distancing, high temperature or not wearing a mask, without having to visually identify them. The Outsight device then can alert the operator when an abnormal event is detected, saving time and resources while optimizing crowd flows.

Cedric Hutchings, CEO, Outsight, said, “Velodyne’s sensors allow us to track each individual person and object with centimeter precision. They enable our solutions to precisely monitor movements, velocity and interactions between all persons and objects in real time.” Jon Barad, Vice President of Business Development, Velodyne Lidar, said, “The system helps organizations move away from traditional surveillance to create a more intelligent infrastructure that tracks people and objects in a more reliable way.”

UCSB researchers receive funding to improve Covid-19 spread models

As Covid-19 shutters cities and towns across the world, people are not behaving like epidemiologists expect, and the models scientists would typically employ to predict the disease’s spread need to be revamped. These are the conclusions of researchers at University of California at Santa Barbara. “Some of the early epidemiological models of Covid-19 rely on assumptions about human movement and connectivity that are totally unrealistic given that most of the country has been shut down,” said UC Santa Barbara disease ecologist Andy MacDonald.

MacDonald, UCSB postdoctoral researcher Dan Sousa, and colleagues at Columbia and UC Berkeley have been awarded a $200,000 grant from the US National Science Foundation to address this issue. The funding comes from the foundation’s Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research, which supports high-risk, high-reward proposals.

Classic epidemiological models use factors like commuting and air travel to estimate how connected different population centers are. “But with people largely staying put, these data sources right now simply don’t provide much useful information,” states MacDonald’s group.

'More appropriate data'

The team plans to source more appropriate data to feed into the models, mostly using remote sensing. For instance, instead of using data like commuter travel to estimate connectivity, they are looking at sources like night-time lighting, gridded population density and mobile phone density, location and movement. “All of these data sources will be brought together to create high resolution spatial networks of human population connectivity as well as to estimate where people are likely to be, interact and travel,” MacDonald said.

Furthermore, many classic techniques do not have high enough resolution to predict how the disease may spread at small scales, such as between neighborhoods, which can influence the likelihood of subsequent long-distance transmission. New data sources will provide information at a variety of spatial scales, giving scientists more detailed insights. The higher resolution should also enable them to better estimate transmission dynamics as events unfold. “For instance, how quickly do we expect new cases to propagate out from hotspots in places that are opening up to places that are still closed,” MacDonald said.

Medical tools developed rapidly with EU pilot line

MedPhab, a dedicated medical pilot production line that enables prototyping of new medical tools based on photonics for detecting major diseases, this week stated that “the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the need to quickly develop diagnostic equipment.”

Coordinator Jussi Hiltunen commented, “MedPhab is Europe's first pilot line dedicated to manufacturing, testing and up-scaling of new photonics technologies for medical diagnostics enabling accelerated product launch with reduced R&D costs. We are giving researchers a way to develop research and development to market and to bridge the valley of death, while being cost-effective with faster delivery times.

“Our easy infrastructure provides the right experts for our clients to help them overcome integrating miniaturized photonic devices. When a project leaves MedPhab, their device will be at TRL 6 to 7, at a stage ready for pre-clinical trials, however, our clients can come to us at many different Technology Readiness Levels,” said Hiltunen.

To ensure that the prototypes adhere to the highest medical standards, MedPhab selects companies that are validated with ISO13485-standardized manufacturing – the standard for a quality management system for the design and manufacture of medical devices, and MedPhab only selected these certified medical companies as part of our production line.

“Their participation ensures the seamless transition from pilot line production to up-scaled production without a need for changing service providers," said Hiltunen. Use-case companies have been selected for the validation of the pilot line services covering both in-vivo and in-vitro domains.

The devices MedPhab focuses on are within three application areas: hospital use, home care devices and equipment for molecular diagnostics. In the hospital setting, solutions assist doctors by giving them real-time information on how a treatment is progressing without the need to send patient samples to a lab.

The equipment for home diagnostics can be used for monitoring a patient's recovery and for obtaining a broader picture than is currently possible. Molecular diagnostics is about establishing a clinical perspective or diagnosing an infection based on a locally-tested serum, saliva or urine sample.

Business should use three strategies to jump-start sales – Gartner

Under the persisting Covid-19 pandemic conditions, Chief Marketing Officers are challenged by business-to-business buyers who are facing multiple layers of environmental uncertainty when they consider a major purchase, which is leading to delays or smaller deals, according to analyst Gartner. A newly-published Gartner survey revealed that 81% of B2B buyers had already experienced “moderate to high levels of environmental uncertainty, even before facing the coronavirus crisis and probable global recession.”

Sharon Cantor Ceurvorst, research director for the Gartner for Marketers practice, commented, “Even under relatively stable conditions, B2B buying is inherently uncertain. The average buying group now includes 11 active members and up to seven occasional participants, and buying groups spend an average of 15% of the buying cycle reconciling different information sources.

She added, “In the face of shifting stakeholders and conflicting information, coupled now with the effects of a global pandemic, buyers feel more uncertain than ever about how to move forward.” To reduce these uncertainties, Gartner recommends that marketing leaders:

  • Prioritize a high-impact organizational change for a key customer segment that can be supported by your category. “As B2B buyers make strategic and operational changes to return to growth following the Covid-19 crisis, it is even more important to understand and support the organizational context behind a purchase decision,” she said.
  • Document discrete tasks that target customers must complete to achieve their organizational change objectives, and create or curate enablement content pieces that support task completion.
  • Deliver enablement content using direct-to-customer channels and through sales reps by providing resources that help customers with changes surrounding a purchase.

The Zepler Institute for Photonics and Nanoelectronics is home to the £120 M ($146 M) clean rooms complex that houses the most advanced set of fabrication capabilities in the UK.

More than 350 researchers work in over 100 laboratories, offering a unique mix of expertise in established and cutting-edge technologies, combined with a wide range of equipment for micro and nanofabrication and electronic and optical characterisation across a range of facilities.

John Ure, Manager of the cleanrooms commented, “These rooms contain a lot of sophisticated equipment that needs to be maintained with fine precision to work effectively. Our technicians and workshop staff are servicing this equipment to ensure research staff can hit the ground running the moment we re-open.

“There is an added layer of preparation involved as a result of Covid-19. Researchers will be required to attend remote induction training that will detail the approach being taken within the general building and individual clean rooms to comply with all government and University Covid-19 safety protocols.

“We've installed a one-way system, social distancing signage, protective screens and hand-sanitizing stations, as well as an upgraded online booking system to ensure people arrive at their allocated time. Ultimately, the physical and mental wellbeing of our staff is of paramount importance.”

Historically, research in the ORC cleanrooms led to the development of the optical fibers that connect the internet today and current research here is aiming to update fiber optics technology and transform future network performance.

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