Tech help

Several startups are now designing tools and software to beat Covid-19

56-V-Prem-Kumar Aid craft: V. Prem Kumar, founder of Marut Drones (in blue shirt), with his team. The drones are being used to ferry medicines.

IN THE RAMAYAN, Hanuman flew into Lanka carrying the Dronagiri mountain, a habitat for medicinal herbs like the Sanjeevani (believed to restore life). Sanjeevani was needed to treat Lakshman, who was mortally wounded in battle. Today, as the world fights the novel coronavirus, a Marut drone ferries medicines to homes in the bylanes of Begumpet, Hyderabad. Till a few weeks ago, Maruts were used to airdrop seeds in afforestation drives. But now, they have been modified to help fight Covid-19. The drone got its name from one of the many names of Hanuman—Maruti, the one born of air.

Business will not be the same anymore. We have to understand what is required in the post-corona age. - Gopal Krishna, CEO of 3D Usher, which is now making face shields for policemen and doctors

For some startups in Hyderabad, the pandemic and an uncertain economy provide an opportunity. For instance, the team at Marut Drones had started repurposing the drones as early as February. “When Covid-19 started spreading, we knew that frontline workers would get affected,” said V. Prem Kumar, founder of Marut Drones. “We realised that usage of drones would be ideal as it would involve no human contact and there would be zero risk to lives. The drones could also cover a large area.”

In the last few weeks, the team has grown from 18 to 40 people, and the number of drones has gone up to 23 from 13. The team has joined hands with the Telangana government, and has customised the drones to spray disinfectants, monitor crowd movement during lockdown and detect high temperatures using thermal cameras, apart from supplying medicines. While some of these services are still being tested, the drones have been deployed in nine districts of Telangana.

Gopal Krishna, CEO of 3D Usher, had an epiphany while watching Game of Thrones during the lockdown. “We decided to design and manufacture face shields for policemen, doctors and others who interact with people,” said Krishna. Cofounded by Krishna and Faizan Mehdi, 3D Usher has offices in the US and India, and it exports metal and plastic engineering goods for aerospace, entertainment and other allied industries.

By raising funds online, the startup initially manufactured and donated 2,000 face shields to hospitals and government bodies. With requests pouring in from Delhi, Bengaluru and other cities, another 30,000 face shields were donated.

“Business will not be the same anymore,” said Krishna. “We have to understand what is required in the post-corona age. People will not be comfortable stepping outside and eating in public places. A new set of products is required.”

Krishna is waiting for the lockdown to be eased so that he can manufacture around one lakh face shields and sell it through e-commerce sites and other distribution channels. Another product that the startup has designed is a stylus-like tool that can be hung on a keychain and be used to press buttons, like the ones in elevators. The product comes with a disinfectant box to help sanitise it after use. “We want to bring out the product soon as we don’t want to miss the bus,” said Krishna.

Another startup, Quantela, collaborated with the state government and other companies to develop a website on Covid-19. Apart from providing statistics, the site will also help users access tele-medicine options. Sridhar Gadhi, founder and executive chairman of Quantela, said that their priorities changed after the pandemic. “Sixty per cent of the smart cities run on our platform. Earlier, our focus was on traffic, safety and security,” he said. “Now we will start focusing on pandemic management and public health. It is important to reform your product within the area you are working.” Covid-19 will change the customer buying pattern, needs and pricing in smart cities, he added.

One of the popular tech landmarks of Telangana is its startup incubator, T-Hub, located in the IT corridor of Hyderabad. Nine startups in T-Hub are working on projects aimed at battling Covid-19. For example, Dimension NXG Pvt Ltd has created glasses to spot Covid-19 suspects. The glasses help identify individuals with Covid-19 symptoms from a distance of 3m to 5m and can be used indoors and outdoors. Wearers will see the real world, with an augmented overlay of body temperature readings of the individuals in front of them.

Artificial Intelligence tools have been deployed by Tericsoft, a T-Hub company, to detect people who are coughing in a public space and also those who are not wearing masks. It can also track the number of people entering or exiting a venue.

While Covid-19 has us all boxed in, entrepreneurs sure are thinking out of the box to stop its spread.