25-08-2020 | | By Robin Mitchell
Intelligent bus shelters are being introduced in South Korea that aim to help contain the spread of COVID-19. What technology do these shelters utilise, how much do they cost, and are they worth deploying in the fight against pandemics?
What it is, how quickly it spread, coronavirus symptoms?
The current COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the globe with large-scale lockdowns, recessions, and mass unemployment. When put into perspective, it is quite amazing how a virus that only measures between 50 to 200 nanometres across can affect everyday life so dramatically. The virus itself, called COVID-19, falls under the family of viruses known as coronavirus which derives its name due to the crown-like shape they have (thanks to the spike protein protrusion). The rate at which COVID-19 initially spread, combined with its apparent high mortality rate (during the beginning), lead to widespread panic buying and border shutdowns and its effects touched all aspects of life including electronics. The extended Chinese New Year holiday, as a result of the virus, caused shipments to be delayed, which saw global shortages of components and products.
As time has progressed, and data been made available, it is quickly becoming clear that the virus mostly affects those who are elderly, overweight, or have pre-existing conditions. To make matters worse, the mortality rate is generally defined as the percentage of those who die from the virus of the total number of confirmed cases. However, a recent study in the UK suggests that at least 3.5 million people have the virus, and if this is correct, then the virus is significantly less dangerous than stated and that the virus is mostly asymptomatic meaning that most people who get COVID-19 will not notice symptoms (let alone becoming ill).
To try and prevent the spread of COVID-19, global lockdowns have seen transport, including public, shutdown entirely as these can easily allow the virus to spread. However, public transport is key to many people’s survival and is their only means of transportation, and thus cannot be entirely shut down. However, if passengers who show symptoms can be denied access to public transport then COVID-19s ability to spread is impeded. Assuming that asymptomatic individuals are less like to spread the virus, how can a system prevent travellers with COVID-19?
South Korea believes to have the answer to this, and have begun constructing specialised smart bus stops that only allow those that do not show COVID-19 symptoms to access the bus stop. To start, the bus stop, which is an entirely enclosed structure, uses automatic doors at its entrance. Before gaining entry, the temperature of passengers is taken using a camera. If the recorded temperature is above 37.5°C, then entry to the bus stop is denied. To ensure a comfortable and safe internal environment, the bus stop integrates air conditioning that not only cools the air but also integrates UV lamps to kill the COVID-19 virus. Further convenience is brought to those waiting for the bus via free Wi-Fi, and the interactive screen that shows the estimated arrival times for busses.
The bus shelters themselves are $84,000 (~ £65,000), which is very expensive when considering that a basic bus shelter can be bought for £1000. Currently, 10 of the new shelters have been deployed with each booth having between 300 and 400 people a day. While these shelters may have the ability to prevent potentially ill individuals from using public transport, current lockdowns and restrictions are proving to be effective at preventing the spread of the virus (unless herd immunity has already kicked in). For such a system to be effective, a large number of shelters need to be replaced as an ill individual from a bus stop down the road can quickly negate the benefits of the shelter. The shelter also cannot protect against asymptomatic people who do not show symptoms but still carry the virus. The cost in this shelter may come from the near environmental sealing from the outside, while in reality, the thermal check might be providing most of the protection. Thus, most busses could be retrofitted with thermal cameras that deny those with a temperature access. The driver could take this further and reject those who show other symptoms such as sneezing and coughing, but this could quickly be abused by drivers and selectively allow passengers access.
Interestingly, South Korea was one of the few countries that didn’t impose a nationwide lockdown. While South Korea was initially one of the worse hit countries outside of China, the use of track and trace programs have helped to contain the spread of the virus. Thus, should future pandemics be controlled with track and trace methods, or should a large-scale lockdown be deployed?
There is no doubt that the economy is important; it is the lifeblood of every nation on this planet. The economic damage done by global lockdowns will see the planet take years to recover, but is track and trace a better alternative? Track and trace system allows businesses to keep on operating, and thus the economy to keep doing what it does best, but at the cost of privacy. Track and trace apps generally can see where individuals are at all times while also providing details as to who an individual has had contact with. In in the wrong hands, this data could easily be used by government officials, or even the general public, for malicious use including blackmail.