As the global population continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, the world of technology has once again come into its own. The speed at which multiple vaccines have been developed, deployed and distributed is thanks in no small part down to advanced tech and its ability to help scientists make sense of experimental data. That alone was vital to understanding how COVID behaved and will be no less important as new variants emerge.
On the ground, organisations have been slow to apply artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to help them scale, adjust and continue operating throughout the pandemic. It is a challenge that few are prepared for, but one that has forced organisations of all sizes to seek solutions to problems that were without precedent. But both AI and ML offered a path for many to operate effectively and to meet the needs of their customers and employees while social distancing and quarantine measures remain in place.
As we move forward, those practices and findings will inform how we do business. The dual challenge of keeping workers safe and keeping companies profitable remains despite the hope offered by vaccines. Little is known about the long-term efficacy of immunisation, how long it will last for, and whether a new variant of the virus will be able to evade inoculation entirely. Until we can answer those questions with certainty, prevention remains better than cure. Technology will play a pivotal role in that.
Tech driving prevention
The industrial sector was a growth area for AI and for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Companies operating in construction, manufacturing, chemical and oil & gas were starting to make use of advancing technology to monitor processes, identify trends and to improve operational efficiency. Moreover, complex problems became easier to solve through machine learning and the ability to process volumes of data quickly.
That ability has proven extremely useful over the last 12 months. There have been very few problems as challenging as COVID-19 and even fewer whose resolution has been so pressing. But it is in such scenarios that AI and the IIoT excel, explains EmpiricAI’s, Salman Chaudhary.
“Solving complex problems is really what artificial intelligence and machine learning are all about. We leverage expertise in a number of areas, including industrial plant operations, enterprise software, and data sciences, to develop sophisticated models. These models ingest data generated by the organisation and transform it into actionable insights and immediate outcomes.”
Indeed, EmpiricAI is doing just that. By harnessing the advances in a field known as computer vision (CV), it has been able to effectively monitor workspaces and efficiently stop and prevent the spread of the virus among staff. It’s allowing organisations to become operational and for staff to return to work with peace of mind. So how does it work?
“Computer vision is a field of AI that trains computers to interpret and understand the visual world, using digital images from cameras and videos in conjunction with deep learning models” Chaudhary says. “The result is a system that can accurately identify and classify objects and then react to what it sees.”
The field has come a long way in the last few years. Aided by the significant advances in high-powered computing and hardware, CV has the scale and capacity to now be far more accurate than humans at detecting, identifying and reacting to visual inputs.
Its applications are incredibly far reaching too. It’s been used to assess the next big soccer star (by watching more than 200,000 players), identify counterfeit currency and is being trialled as a method of smart payment for retail. In the field of healthcare, steps are already being taken to use CV to increase the speed and accuracy of chemotherapy responses and assessments – a breakthrough that could save thousands of lives. Its adoption in the fight against COVID-19 is no less impactful either.
“In respect of COVID-19, we have been able to process video data via our WorkSafe Analytics (WSA) application to provide insight into workplace safety measures and compliance,” Chaudhary says. “for example, an organisation can detect and monitor social distancing, occupancy levels and mask usage in real-time, and make any adjustments or actions to mitigate any risk.”
Indeed, one client has successfully implemented WorkSafe Analytics to reconfigure parts of their office that was becoming congested and to ensure compliance to health and safety policies. Within the first month they saw a drop of 50% in compliance violations and nominal improvements thereafter, ultimately halving the risk of the spread of the infection.
The reality is that we don’t know how the pandemic will evolve so it’s important that more permanent solutions and measures are put into place. It is both necessary and incumbent on businesses to implement and standardise operating procedures and safety compliance to reduce risk, protect workforces and maintain productivity. But, of course, dealing with COVID is iterative - as the virus peaks and troughs and mutates companies will need to take action – they’ll need to manage and monitor risks and continually assess gaps in policies. It’s no mean feat, but something that WSA was built to do, Chaudhary adds.
'It is our solution’s ability to help companies evaluate and report on the effectiveness of existing measures and policies that offers them the most resilience. It’s peace of mind and confidence that is welcome in a climate of high uncertainty.'
Read more about WorkSafe Analytics.