The Detect and Protect Challenge from Hackster.io
People in Europe and the U.S. may be getting tired of COVID-19, but many developing countries are early in their struggle with the coronavirus. The United Nations Development Programme Centre for Technology, Innovation, and Sustainable Development (UNDP) needed a way to get low-cost tools and resources into developing countries to aid in viral detection and treatment. The UNDP has many financial sponsors, but when it looked for a partner to help put tools in hands, the organization chose Avnet and Hackster.io. The result? The Detect and Protect Challenge.
The challenge has three priority actions:
- Design replicable, low-cost tools to aid in coronavirus detection
- Flatten the curve in communities with preventive solutions
- Reduce the disease’s impact on the economies of these vulnerable areas
Adam Benzion, who was CEO and co-founder of Hackster and is now a director with Avnet, which acquired Hackster in 2016, is thrilled to be involved in the contest.
“We did try and work with the UN in the past,” says Benzion, “but there was never an urgency.” COVID-19 changed that. The UN came under pressure to identify communities in danger and find sponsor companies to help. It has raised money and sponsored a hackathon, but those results weren’t targeted to the needs of countries in the Detect and Protect Challenge program. The technology transfer from the winning projects will go to Sri Lanka, Kenya, Egypt, Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa. The UNDP has offices and at least two ambassadors in those countries to handle the technology transfer.
“Avnet has vast resources to take advantage of,” says Benzion. “We can bring in developers, handle logistics, and provide manufacturing support in places worldwide.”
The official contest started April 14, 2020, and has been extended until July 15, but many of the devices entered have already been tagged as Impact Winners. These include 3D printed face shields, an automatic hand sanitizer dispenser, a respiration sensor, and a digital stethoscope with artificial intelligence that attaches to a smartphone.
“There have been tons of participants,” says Benzion. “We have had more than 2,000 submissions and there are over 300 still waiting to be judged.” Contestants aren’t evaluated on their ideas but on their finished products. “They need to be low cost, easy to build with easily acquired materials, and have no intellectual property restrictions,” says Benzion. Lists of materials and all CAD files and program code must be shared.
The lack of hacker infrastructure in developing countries is real, but contest organizers can change that with a relatively small amount of money, Benzion says. “A 3D printer is maybe $2K, and enough filaments to last for quite a while maybe another $500. We can easily ship each country two or three printers, filaments, and electronic components. We can make a big difference for maybe $10,000.” Money from sponsors such as Amazon, Google, Intel, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Avnet, and others is used to provide these materials.
Benzion has been quite impressed with many of the entries. “One of the first week’s winners is an Open Source pulse oximeter that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood,” he says. “It was designed and built by a young man only 18 years old.”
Sometimes the best tools need little technology. “A clear acrylic box with a cutout for the neck that fits over the head of COVID-19 patients has saved the lives of many of those treating patients,” notes Benzion. The box allows the patients to breathe but blocks droplets the patient coughs from getting on the healthcare workers. Acrylic sheets are included in shipments to countries in the program.
“People in these developing countries are amazing,” he says. “They’re smart and want to make a difference.”
With relatively inexpensive materials and free designs, the UNDP and Avnet are helping people in developing countries help themselves. There’s still time to enter and add your design to the project.