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Humanity is facing perhaps its biggest challenge in modern times. Governments and healthcare workers around the world are desperately attempting to contain the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. In the absence of a definitive cure, the next best thing is to identify, isolate, and treat patients. But that is easier said than done; test kits and resources are scarce, and people showing preliminary symptoms are averse to visiting a hospital. In that situation, an AI-based research at EPFL has grabbed global media attention.

A group of five researchers at EPFL’s Embedded Systems Laboratory (ESL) have developed an artificial intelligence-based system that allows you to record your cough and have it analyzed almost instantly to indicate whether you have COVID-19. In a few weeks’ time, the team will release an app, aptly named Coughvid, which will be available for free and direct download to your devices.

Explaining the principle behind the research, ESL head and research team member David Atienza quoted statistics from the World Health Organization, which show that 67.7% of COVID-19 patients have a dry cough without mucus, while the common cold or allergy is usually accompanied by a wet cough. Using artificial intelligence, Coughvid distinguishes between different types of cough based on their sound. The researchers are collecting enough recordings of coughs to train the system to yield results with a 70% accuracy rate. Compared to existing screening systems, Coughvid is a simple diagnostic tool that allows users to self-screen and reduce their apprehensions in these days of fear and uncertainty.

In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal reports that Coughvid could help identify “the signature respiratory problems that make the infections so dangerous” and “help unlock the way to a faster diagnosis.”

Answering critics of computer-science projects on coronavirus, AI researchers say that their primary aim is to gather data that could help develop screening software and diagnostic aids, and they are fully aware of the risks of false positives and negatives. The EPFL researchers will first ensure that they have sufficient data before releasing the Coughvid app. Toward that goal, EPFL is inviting COVID-19 patients to contribute to the development work by recording their cough at https://coughvid.epfl.ch/

Coughvid is one of around a dozen projects being carried out under HelpfulETH, a joint initiative of EPFL and ETH Zurich to develop solutions to fight COVID-19.