How you and your technology can help fight Covid-19

Net Results: Web volunteerism and crowdsourced missions offer humanitarian outlets

A handy resource listing many corona-focused initiatives around the world is at https://civictech.guide/coronavirus/. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg

A handy resource listing many corona-focused initiatives around the world is at https://civictech.guide/coronavirus/. Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg

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One of the more cheering responses to the present global pandemic has been the fast reaction of so many people with technical (or other) skills. Across Ireland and the world, they’ve come together with initiatives to help frontline workers and scientists – and sometimes, the rest of us seeking ways to cope – at a time of serious need.

Often these are crowdsourced activities that use the web and social media reach to bring needed talent on board, or raise funds, or both. Some seek people with specific technical skills, such as coding or product development, while others are efforts to which anyone can contribute. Below, you will definitely find something that can use your own abilities.

One of the first big international Covid projects off the mark was one familiar to many computing old timers as it has been around for two decades in various guises, and anyone with a computer can contribute to it. The Folding@Home project, based at Washington University in St Louis and involving several major universities, has several research projects ongoing and the newest is a search to find weaknesses that can be targeted in the coronavirus.

 By downloading a small program to a laptop or PC, individuals can allow the spare computing power on their home machines to become part of a vast international distributed supercomputer running simulations that look for “protein-folding” anomalies in the coronavirus. These could offer possible entry points for drugs to tackle the virus.

 To add your machine, go to foldingathome.org, download the program, then follow the directions to choose Covid-19 as your project.

 Another huge international crowdsourced project is the Coronavirus Tech Handbook at coronavirustechhandbook.com/home. It describes itself as “a crowd-sourced library for technologists, civic organisations, public and private institutions, researchers, and specialists of all kinds working on responses to the pandemic”.

Ventilator projects

The range of resources includes sections aimed at developers (which has updated lists of Covid-related hackathons, for example), but also, the handbook has information specifically for parents and guardians, the vulnerable, for people who are sick, for those who are grieving – and for, as one section is entitled, “everyone”. Anyone can add information, too.

Irish organisers were the instigators of another of the earliest big international crowdsourced projects, one aiming to fill the urgent gap between the demand for and limited supply of ventilators for Covid-19 patients.

The Irish-based Open Source Ventilator project quickly picked up international steam to help design and develop portable emergency ventilators. The initiative needs the knowledge of many different types of experts. Learn more, and register your interest if you can contribute in any of a variety of ways, at opensourceventilator.ie.

Have a 3D printer? A group of Irish engineers has come together to form the Covid-19 Virtual Factory, which is organising people with access to 3D printers to produce badly needed supplies, such as protective visors, for frontline medical staff in Ireland. There’s detailed information from Engineers Ireland at engineersireland.ie.

Helping the old

There are also links to a Slack group for those without a printer, but who wish to contribute to the development of products in other ways. There is also a link to a fundraising page for the 3D project.

If you have some technical knowledge and can help those without in the older and vulnerable stay-at-home cohort, John Harrington is crowdsourcing expertise on smartphones, computers, tablets, wifi connections, using communications and video apps, and other home technologies for his Covid-19 Tech Help initiative. He has set up a webpage at covid19tech.ie with more information and the project is also on Twitter at @Covid19_tech and has a Facebook page.

 A handy resource listing many other corona-focused initiatives around the world is the crowdsourced list at civictech.guide/coronavirus.

If you perhaps are finding yourself with plenty of time on your hands right now and would like to get involved with crowdsourced initiatives more generally, you’ll find no shortage of projects that would love your help.

For example, a completely different type of project that anyone can dive into is learning to edit one of the largest crowdsourced projects ever, the Wikipedia. Dr Rebecca O’Neill of Wikimedia Ireland is holding regular weekly online teaching sessions where she demonstrates how to contribute to the vast online encyclopedia. Check posts from @WikimediaIE or O’Neill (@restlesscurator) to learn more.

Or, search across the huge list of projects at Zooniverse, which brings together millions of volunteers to participate in online projects that span science and the humanities across the globe. Maybe you want to help find asteroids in images from the Hubble telescope. Or track the criminal careers of Australian prisoners. Or classify sounds babies make. Or help track animal life in the French mountains. Or transcribe the work of early women astronomers.

 All you have to do is register and then pick your project at Zooniverse.org.

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