Do You Think You Have COVID-19 Symptoms? Find Out with This App

A self-assessment test will identify the severity of the symptoms and advise whether you should get tested

3 min read
CRS Kumar with a mobile phone with the Arogya-Kshema app on it.
Photo: Vikrant Gurmitkal/DIAT

THE INSTITUTE Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary from mild to severe and often overlap with other illnesses, which makes it difficult to diagnose people without a test. However, it has been difficult for testing sites to keep up with the demand, and they can quickly get overcrowded.

Several students interested in engineering as well as experienced engineers have developed tools to help prevent overcrowding at testing sites.

One team, made of five high school students from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, in Alexandria, Va., created a central repository for COVID-19 testing sites to combat this issue.

In India, IEEE Senior Member CRS Kumar is leading a team that developed a mobile app to help people assess whether they need to get tested for the virus in order to lessen the burden on the testing sites.

Kumar is a computer science and engineering professor at the Defence Institute of Advanced Technology in Pune, India. He is also a distinguished lecturer for the IEEE Computer Society.

The Institute asked Kumar about the mobile app.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What problem are you trying to solve?

The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a very serious global challenge. Every day millions of people are being tested for COVID-19, and it has been difficult for the testing sites to keep up with the demand. To prevent overcrowding at testing sites and lessen the [work]load of [their workers], we developed a mobile app called Arogya-Kshema so individuals can do a self-assessment [test].

The test covers all the symptoms of COVID-19 and [has been] designed in [partnership] with doctors and other healthcare experts.

Explain how your project works.

Users first choose the language they wish for the mobile app to be in. Languages include Hindi, Tamil, and Malayalam, as well as English, Japanese, and Spanish.

 Users answer 13 questions about their symptoms and health condition—eight [require a] yes/no [response] and five [are] multiple choice. The app then generates diagnostic messages with color codes [based on the user's answers]. Green means the person shows no symptoms, blue means the user may have a mild infection and advises [the person] to see a medical professional, and red means the user has a high chance of infection and advises [the individual] to seek  medical attention immediately or to get tested.

What technologies are you using?

ArogyaKshemaa was developed using [the] latest version of Android Studio, an app development system. [Android Studio provided the team with a Java class and a Web kit to create the app].

Every answer for every question is assigned a weight [based on how indicative the symptom is of the virus] and [a] final score is calculated as an aggregate sum of the weights of the chosen options. The final score is then compared with the [associated] threshold values to determine [what diagnostic message the user receives].

The mobile app does not collect, store, or share information from the user’s self-assessment test. A central design point of the Android security architecture is that no app, by default, has permission to perform any operations that would adversely impact other apps, the operating system, or the user.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

[One] we faced was deciding on the list of symptoms of COVID-19 [to be] measured in the app. We consulted with medical professionals and experts, [who helped us finalize the list.]

We also had a hard time translating the app to multiple languages and publishing [it] on [the] Google Play Store. We translated [the app] using Google translator [and then consulted with a team of] language experts both from India and abroad.

What is the potential impact of the technology?

Testing plays an important role in combating COVID-19. Millions of tests are performed daily; however, the results are not instantaneous. [Many testing sites are also overwhelmed with the amount of people wanting to get tested.] ArogyaKshema [can] assist users [in deciding whether they need to see a doctor and get tested or if they can wait.]

How close are you to the final product?

The mobile app is available on the Google Play Store for Android devices. Aversion is being developed for iOS devices.

We are adding several features to the mobile app such as the ability to analyze images and the user’s speech in order to detect symptoms of COVID-19, integrating the app with the COVID-19 Social Vaccine Toolkit [a guide Kumar created that explains best practices to protect people from the virus], and the ability to track the development of the COVID-19 vaccine and schedule to be vaccinated [when it is available].

How many people are involved, and how many IEEE members are involved?

We have three postgraduate students working on the project. We have also consulted [with] several doctors in India and abroad.

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The Inner Beauty of Basic Electronics

Open Circuits showcases the surprising complexity of passive components

5 min read
A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.
All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

Eric Schlaepfer was trying to fix a broken piece of test equipment when he came across the cause of the problem—a troubled tantalum capacitor. The component had somehow shorted out, and he wanted to know why. So he polished it down for a look inside. He never found the source of the short, but he and his collaborator, Windell H. Oskay, discovered something even better: a breathtaking hidden world inside electronics. What followed were hours and hours of polishing, cleaning, and photography that resulted in Open Circuits: The Inner Beauty of Electronic Components (No Starch Press, 2022), an excerpt of which follows. As the authors write, everything about these components is deliberately designed to meet specific technical needs, but that design leads to “accidental beauty: the emergent aesthetics of things you were never expected to see.”

From a book that spans the wide world of electronics, what we at IEEE Spectrum found surprisingly compelling were the insides of things we don’t spend much time thinking about, passive components. Transistors, LEDs, and other semiconductors may be where the action is, but the simple physics of resistors, capacitors, and inductors have their own sort of splendor.

High-Stability Film Resistor

A photo of a high-stability film resistor with the letters "MIS" in yellow.

All photos by Eric Schlaepfer & Windell H. Oskay

This high-stability film resistor, about 4 millimeters in diameter, is made in much the same way as its inexpensive carbon-film cousin, but with exacting precision. A ceramic rod is coated with a fine layer of resistive film (thin metal, metal oxide, or carbon) and then a perfectly uniform helical groove is machined into the film.

Instead of coating the resistor with an epoxy, it’s hermetically sealed in a lustrous little glass envelope. This makes the resistor more robust, ideal for specialized cases such as precision reference instrumentation, where long-term stability of the resistor is critical. The glass envelope provides better isolation against moisture and other environmental changes than standard coatings like epoxy.

15-Turn Trimmer Potentiometer

A photo of a blue chip
A photo of a blue chip on a circuit board.

It takes 15 rotations of an adjustment screw to move a 15-turn trimmer potentiometer from one end of its resistive range to the other. Circuits that need to be adjusted with fine resolution control use this type of trimmer pot instead of the single-turn variety.

The resistive element in this trimmer is a strip of cermet—a composite of ceramic and metal—silk-screened on a white ceramic substrate. Screen-printed metal links each end of the strip to the connecting wires. It’s a flattened, linear version of the horseshoe-shaped resistive element in single-turn trimmers.

Turning the adjustment screw moves a plastic slider along a track. The wiper is a spring finger, a spring-loaded metal contact, attached to the slider. It makes contact between a metal strip and the selected point on the strip of resistive film.

Ceramic Disc Capacitor

A cutaway of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor
A photo of a Ceramic Disc Capacitor

Capacitors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of static electricity. They’re used in countless ways, including for bulk energy storage, to smooth out electronic signals, and as computer memory cells. The simplest capacitor consists of two parallel metal plates with a gap between them, but capacitors can take many forms so long as there are two conductive surfaces, called electrodes, separated by an insulator.

A ceramic disc capacitor is a low-cost capacitor that is frequently found in appliances and toys. Its insulator is a ceramic disc, and its two parallel plates are extremely thin metal coatings that are evaporated or sputtered onto the disc’s outer surfaces. Connecting wires are attached using solder, and the whole assembly is dipped into a porous coating material that dries hard and protects the capacitor from damage.

Film Capacitor

An image of a cut away of a capacitor
A photo of a green capacitor.

Film capacitors are frequently found in high-quality audio equipment, such as headphone amplifiers, record players, graphic equalizers, and radio tuners. Their key feature is that the dielectric material is a plastic film, such as polyester or polypropylene.

The metal electrodes of this film capacitor are vacuum-deposited on the surfaces of long strips of plastic film. After the leads are attached, the films are rolled up and dipped into an epoxy that binds the assembly together. Then the completed assembly is dipped in a tough outer coating and marked with its value.

Other types of film capacitors are made by stacking flat layers of metallized plastic film, rather than rolling up layers of film.

Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

A photo of a cutaway of a Dipped Tantalum Capacitor

At the core of this capacitor is a porous pellet of tantalum metal. The pellet is made from tantalum powder and sintered, or compressed at a high temperature, into a dense, spongelike solid.

Just like a kitchen sponge, the resulting pellet has a high surface area per unit volume. The pellet is then anodized, creating an insulating oxide layer with an equally high surface area. This process packs a lot of capacitance into a compact device, using spongelike geometry rather than the stacked or rolled layers that most other capacitors use.

The device’s positive terminal, or anode, is connected directly to the tantalum metal. The negative terminal, or cathode, is formed by a thin layer of conductive manganese dioxide coating the pellet.

Axial Inductor

An image of a cutaway of a Axial Inductor
A photo of a collection of cut wires

Inductors are fundamental electronic components that store energy in the form of a magnetic field. They’re used, for example, in some types of power supplies to convert between voltages by alternately storing and releasing energy. This energy-efficient design helps maximize the battery life of cellphones and other portable electronics.

Inductors typically consist of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a core of magnetic material like iron or ferrite, a ceramic filled with iron oxide. Current flowing around the core produces a magnetic field that acts as a sort of flywheel for current, smoothing out changes in the current as it flows through the inductor.

This axial inductor has a number of turns of varnished copper wire wrapped around a ferrite form and soldered to copper leads on its two ends. It has several layers of protection: a clear varnish over the windings, a light-green coating around the solder joints, and a striking green outer coating to protect the whole component and provide a surface for the colorful stripes that indicate its inductance value.

Power Supply Transformer

A photo of a collection of cut wires
A photo of a yellow element on a circuit board.

This transformer has multiple sets of windings and is used in a power supply to create multiple output AC voltages from a single AC input such as a wall outlet.

The small wires nearer the center are “high impedance” turns of magnet wire. These windings carry a higher voltage but a lower current. They’re protected by several layers of tape, a copper-foil electrostatic shield, and more tape.

The outer “low impedance” windings are made with thicker insulated wire and fewer turns. They handle a lower voltage but a higher current.

All of the windings are wrapped around a black plastic bobbin. Two pieces of ferrite ceramic are bonded together to form the magnetic core at the heart of the transformer.

This article appears in the February 2023 print issue.