IEEE Sections Receive Grants for Their Innovative Ways of Helping to Fight the Coronavirus

Projects include a virus-detection robot, 3D printed PPE, and a hand-washing system

4 min read
The IEEE Bangalore Section received a grant to 3D print personal protection items including a finger protection cover, a grabber, a door opener, and an elbow-operated soap dispenser.
Members of the IEEE Bangalore Section design personal protection items, including a finger protection cover, a grabber, a door opener, and an elbow-operated soap dispenser.
Photo: Abhishek Appaji

THE INSTITUTE The IEEE Humanitarian Activities Committee and the IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology joined forces to award grants to IEEE volunteer projects that could immediately impact the fight against the coronavirus and its effects. The technologies and programs being developed by various IEEE sections include ones that are intended to supplement online education, help stop the spread of the virus, and provide support to medical professionals.

The grants, totaling more than US $226,000 as of press time, were given to more than 50 projects in 21 countries. Updated information can be found here.

Below are six projects that were awarded grants of $5,000, the highest amount a project could receive.

• The IEEE Columbus [Ohio] Section, in collaboration with local community groups and eight nonprofits, is developing systems for a self-sustaining urban farm in Columbus’s Milo Grogan neighborhood. African Americans—who make up more than 80 percent of residents there—have been disproportionally affected by the virus. About 45 percent of the neighborhood’s residents live below the poverty line, according to a 2016 study by the nonprofit Greater Ohio Policy Center, making it difficult to afford healthy food, like fresh produce.

An example photo showing a smaller version of a prototype insert for the food rack Once completed, the Milo Grogan urban farm will house shipping containers holding hydroponic food racks similar to the smaller prototype pictured here. Photo: Roots Up

The IEEE section is developing automated lighting and watering systems for the urban farm. The lighting system’s cycles will be determined by the type of LEDs being used in a specific area of the farm and the growth stage of the produce in that area, according to IEEE Senior Member Carl Lee. The water system’s schedule will be based on the type of plant, the growing medium used, and the type of nutrient mixtures that are added to the growing medium.

The Milo Grogan 365 Fresh Produce Farm will provide local restaurants and residents, who will also manage the farm, with organic produce year-round. The farm, which is expected to start food production in 2021, will also create jobs and revenue for the neighborhood.

• The IEEE Nigeria Section is building a robot that can quickly detect whether a person has COVID-19 symptoms, by, for example, checking for low blood oxygen levels and elevated body temperature. The IEEE section’s robot will use machine-learning algorithms and absolute accuracy metrics to ensure that the measurements are precise. The robot will be formally
commissioned by the Nigerian government in November, according to IEEE Senior Member Kennedy Chinedu Okafor.

Presentation of masks and hand sanitizers to community leaders in Nigeria Engineers, including IEEE Senior Member John Oyewole Funso-Adebayo (second from the right), present masks and hand sanitizer to community leaders in Jos, Nigeria. Photo: John Oyewole Funso-Adebayo

The section is also developing a program to train city leaders in Jos, in the Plateau State, to make alcohol-based hand sanitizer and create personal protection equipment. The hand sanitizer is being made from a mixture of either grounded camphor or wild spinach as well as ethanol, glycerin, and lavender oil, according to IEEE Senior Member John Oyewole Funso-Adebayo. The PPE are made from tight-woven cotton fabric that is sewn by hand or by a sewing machine, he says. Many of the city’s residents live in camps and are internally displaced persons—those who were forced to flee their homes but remain within Nigeria’s borders.

• Volunteers from the IEEE Ecuador Section and members of the IEEE student branch at Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral, in Guayaquil, are developing an online digital literacy program to teach basic programming to high school students.

The educational system on the Galápagos Islands, located off the coast of Ecuador, is not equipped to offer online classes because instructors lack computer literacy. The goal of the program is for the high school students on the Galápagos Islands to teach basic programming and digital applications virtually to others. Members of the IEEE student branch will serve as mentors and facilitators.

• Residents of the underserved community of Siddapura, in Bangalore, India, have no way to protect themselves against the coronavirus. To help them, the IEEE Bangalore Section is using a 3D printer to produce personal protection kits. The kit includes a finger protection cover (to protect the wearer from exposure to the virus), a printed handy (to hold or grab items), a door opener, and an elbow-operated soap dispenser.

From left: Sreekanth NV, Abhishek Appaji, and Shekar GK IEEE Bangalore Section members Sreekanth NV (left), Abhishek Appaji (center), and Shekar GK showing some of the personal protection items they have 3D printed. Photo: Abhishek Appaji

• Low-cost, foot-operated hand-washing systems with soap and water dispensers are being developed by the IEEE Uganda Section. The systems will be installed by IEEE members on university campuses in Uganda that have an IEEE student branch. The units will be made using locally available materials and will not require electricity. Therefore, they could also be installed in remote, off-grid communities.

Attention IEEE members: are you part of a team responding to the COVID-19 crisis? We want to hear from you! Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, if you are helping deal with the outbreak in some way, let us know. Send us accounts of anywhere from 200 to 800 words, or simply give us a rough idea of what you are doing and your contact information. Write

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What the Well-Dressed Spacecraft Will Be Wearing

Spacecraft wrapped in sensor-rich electronic textiles could double as scientific instruments

12 min read
Left, a white woven piece of fabric with three thin vertical dark lines on a blue background. Right, a dark-haired woman holds a small blue square in her hands with a piece of the same fabric inside.

MIT's Juliana Cherston [right] holds a sensored Beta-cloth swatch like the one that will fly on board the International Space Station in 2022. At left, this swatch has three black fiber sensors woven into the material.

Bob O'Connor

This coming February, the Cygnus NG-17 spacecraft will launch from NASA Wallops, in Virginia, on a routine resupply mission to the International Space Station. Amid the many tonnes of standard crew supplies, spacewalk equipment, computer hardware, and research experiments will be one unusual package: a pair of electronic textile swatches embedded with impact and vibration sensors. Soon after the spacecraft's arrival at the ISS, a robotic arm will mount the samples onto the exterior of Alpha Space's Materials ISS Experiment (MISSE) facility, and control-room operators back on Earth will feed power to the samples.

For the next six months, our team will conduct the first operational test of sensor-laden electronic fabrics in space, collecting data in real time as the sensors endure the harsh weather of low Earth orbit. We also hope that microscopic dust or debris, traveling at least an order of magnitude faster than sound, will strike the fabric and trigger the sensors.

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