Making Raspberry Pi in a Covid-19 World

AwhiWorld uses Raspberry Pis in a number of projects. It’s low cost (about $100 NZ), small size (about the size of a credit card) and versatile. So that means its great for creativity on a budget.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation (UK) launched this mini-computer in 2012. Its goal – to support the teaching of basic computer science – particularly in developing nations.

And it’s popular! As a core part of a bigger DIY/maker|hacker movement RPis empower people to access to the power of computing.

The Raspberry Pi plugs into a computer monitor or TV and uses a normal size keyboard and mouse.. A wide range of computer languages are supported like Processing and Python. Boards often have multiple USB ports and are Wi-Fi  and Blue Tooth enabled. They can perform most low power computing functions and talk to other gadgets and devices creating an Internet of Things. 


During the COVID-19 crisis these devices have really come into their own. A range of prototypes and projects are in development, in train or in use. We are studying some of these projects as part of our research for the Traces_COVID-19 project.

Collaboratively Powering Scientific Research

First of all certain kinds of medical research requires big computing power. The project Rosetta@home creatively supports collaborative computing for research purposes. Most recently research into the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that marks COVID-19.

By connecting up networks of users at home via computers (including Raspberry Pis) more effective and powerful medical modelling can take place. (For a more powerful version of this see the Folding@home project)

Surveillance and Monitoring

AwhiWorld are not fans of government surveillance programmes. We fear what will happen in a post COVID-19 environment when governments have more tools to control and spy on citizens.

The 9/11 terrorist episode is an example of game-changing behaviour as a result of disaster which changed the way we fly forever.

In an upcoming post we will discuss so called ‘track and trace’ apps but for now how are Raspberry Pi’s could used for monitoring purposes?

Visual and Audio Surveillance

So one project in this area is Face Mask Detection which facial recognition software and camera to see if people are wearing a mask. Shop keepers in some countries then have the option to exclude people from entering. Although in some US States you might not get let in for actually wearing a mask.

Detecting people who may have COVID-19 in large crowds is another way for governments to track and trace illness (as well as sedition!) Researchers have developed something they call “FluSense‘ which monitors crowd sounds to forecast outbreaks of viral respiratory disease.

Using a cheap microphone array, a thermal sensor, an Intel Movidius 2 neural computing engine, and a Raspberry Pi the system detects coughs in a crowd. Making it useful to monitor large crowds and forecast potential illness.

Monitoring Patients

Maintaining good levels of monitoring and protecting staff in hospitals has been hard especially in situations with poor stocks of PPE. With this in mind this Patient Monitoring Prototype allows a Raspberry Pi 4 to connect to a:

“standard finger-clip respiratory sensor to support monitoring of COVID-19 patients. The finger clips detect the level of light absorbed by blood in a patient’s finger. Blood absorbs different colours of light to different degrees depending on how well oxygenated it is, so these measurements tell medical staff whether patients might be having difficulty with breathing. The Raspberry Pi communicates this information over a wireless network to a server allowing the nurses’ station computers or doctors’ smartphones to access data on how their patients are doing without entering a room.” (quote from link)

DIY + Open Source Ventilators

COVID-19 is damaging to many parts of the body but is mostly associated with damage to the lungs. Respirators are often in high demand, even in well serviced so-called developed nations.  

So with that in mind a few projects aiming to power ventilators with Raspberry Pi are in train including one in a Columbian Hospital.

A number of ventilator projects also use different kinds of DIY Electronics (including Arduino). Here is a good example using micro-controllers reported in TechCrunch recently.

COVID-19 Hackables and Makeables

Thanks to some very large competitions, many DIY COVID-19 projects are underway. The UNDP Detect and Protect Challenge has the highest profile. It has a huge range of sponsors including Adafruit, Amazon Web Services, Arduino, Arm, Avnet, balena, DFRobot, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Nordic Semiconductor, NVIDIA, NXP, Seeed, Silicon Labs, SORACOM, The Things Network, Ubidots, UNDP and UNICEF. We will keep checking it out as our Traces_COVID-19 project progresses.