IEEE President’s Column: Strength and Solidarity in Responding to the Challenges of COVID-19

The safety and well-being of IEEE members, volunteers, and staff is our first priority

3 min read
Photo of Toshio Fukuda
Photo: Christie’s Photographic Solutions

THE INSTITUTE Over the past several months, our international community has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, a global health crisis that has impacted many members of the IEEE family. During this evolving public health situation, our most important priority has been the safety and well-being of our members, volunteers, and staff.

First and foremost, I want to thank you for your continued support of IEEE. As a professional technical and scientific organization, we are a community of researchers, technologists, and scientists on the front lines of global research, innovation, and medical infrastructure. Many of our members are directly or indirectly engaged in the fight against this disease, supporting biomedical research and applications, supporting data analysis and modeling, maintaining critical communications and power infrastructure, and caring for each other.

Thank you for your leadership, expertise, and efforts in helping to support communities throughout the world through this public health crisis.

Given the global geographic reach of the virus, its significant individual and personal impact, and the deep economic disruption it has caused, there probably is not a single IEEE member, program, or activity that has not been touched by it. Despite the pandemic’s challenges, IEEE continues to support our members and to execute our mission to advance technology for the benefit of humanity.

To protect the safety, health, and well-being of our members, volunteers, and staff, IEEE moved to postpone or cancel face-to-face meetings and events and quickly set up online or virtual alternatives. We have supported distancing measures and travel restrictions intended to slow the spread of the pandemic and relieve peak demand on medical systems.

Throughout this period and despite obstacles, IEEE operations have continued. IEEE publications continue to accept, review, and publish submissions and publish impactful cutting-edge research. Our online publications remain available to researchers and students around the world. IEEE standards development continues as well, using online collaboration to replace in-person working-group meetings.

To help researchers understand, manage, and combat the pandemic, IEEE is providing free, direct access through the IEEE Xplore Digital Library to a collection of COVID-19 research articles and standards. Our educational activities continue to offer online instruction, and IEEE’s preuniversity educational resources continue to assist students whose classroom activities have been disrupted.

IEEE teams worked to develop innovative and engaging event formats to replace conferences and meetings that allowed audiences to connect and interact online.

Throughout these challenging times, our members and volunteers around the world have remained focused and committed to IEEE’s mission.

With many IEEE office buildings closed in accordance with local guidelines, IEEE professional staff transitioned to remote-work schedules. I would like to share my appreciation for the way the team supported our mission while working from home and creatively addressed the challenges of coordinating activities across our distributed teams.

THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY

It has been interesting to see emerging technology play a major role in the response to the pandemic. Technology companies, big and small, pivoted to join the fight against the coronavirus and to fast-track efforts to help entrepreneurs develop technologies to address the pandemic. University researchers and their students also played key roles in analysis and response.

In addition to biomedical technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics have become indispensable resources in the fight. Deep-learning models are being used to assess existing and new drugs that might aid in successfully treating COVID-19. Hospitals have deployed AI tools to help detect COVID-19 on chest scans, and use deep-learning algorithms to diagnose, triage, and monitor coronavirus cases from lung images.

This healthcare crisis is driving new developments in robotics after seeing the successful usage of robots in the battle against COVID-19.

Robots can perform repetitive chores such as delivering supplies to medical staff, freeing hospital workers to do more important tasks. Robots are taking on dangerous and dirty jobs, including handling nasopharyngeal sampling swabs and decontaminating medical equipment and facilities. Robotic vehicles are being deployed to support contactless deliveries amid quarantines.

I am proud of the work that all the members of our IEEE community have been doing in response to the uniquely challenging circumstances we now face. I extend my heartfelt thanks to every member of this community for your understanding, flexibility, and strength in these taxing times. I am confident that when we work together, no challenge is too great for us to overcome.

As the global community continues to grapple with COVID-19 and its far-reaching implications, and as we begin to look beyond the pandemic, be assured that IEEE will continue to support our imperative to learn, connect, inform, and advance the technical state of the art.

Recent events highlight the essential role of science and technology and the crucial need for knowledge, innovation, and application across academic, public, and private sectors. Thank you for being a valued IEEE member.

Share your thoughts with me at president@ieee.org.

This article appears in the June 2020 print issue as “Strength and Solidarity in Responding to the Challenges of COVID-19.”

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Can This DIY Rocket Program Send an Astronaut to Space?

Copenhagen Suborbitals is crowdfunding its crewed rocket

15 min read
Vertical
Five people stand in front of two tall rockets. Some of the people are wearing space suits and holding helmets, others are holding welding equipment.

Copenhagen Suborbitals volunteers are building a crewed rocket on nights and weekends. The team includes [from left] Mads Stenfatt, Martin Hedegaard Petersen, Jørgen Skyt, Carsten Olsen, and Anna Olsen.

Mads Stenfatt
Red

It was one of the prettiest sights I have ever seen: our homemade rocket floating down from the sky, slowed by a white-and-orange parachute that I had worked on during many nights at the dining room table. The 6.7-meter-tall Nexø II rocket was powered by a bipropellant engine designed and constructed by the Copenhagen Suborbitals team. The engine mixed ethanol and liquid oxygen together to produce a thrust of 5 kilonewtons, and the rocket soared to a height of 6,500 meters. Even more important, it came back down in one piece.

That successful mission in August 2018 was a huge step toward our goal of sending an amateur astronaut to the edge of space aboard one of our DIY rockets. We're now building the Spica rocket to fulfill that mission, and we hope to launch a crewed rocket about 10 years from now.

Copenhagen Suborbitals is the world's only crowdsourced crewed spaceflight program, funded to the tune of almost US $100,000 per year by hundreds of generous donors around the world. Our project is staffed by a motley crew of volunteers who have a wide variety of day jobs. We have plenty of engineers, as well as people like me, a pricing manager with a skydiving hobby. I'm also one of three candidates for the astronaut position.

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