(BBC) – Two leading universities are trying to develop apps that listen to users’ coughs and voices to predict whether they are infected with the coronavirus.
But the two projects are taking different approaches to privacy.
The Cambridge University effort seeks to keep volunteers anonymous, but says this is currently limiting its work.
Meanwhile, a team at Carnegie Mellon University says it is critical that users register themselves, but it has had to temporarily go offline.
The two initiatives are independent of one another.
Both rely on machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence in which computers analyse large amounts of data to find patterns that can be used to solve problems.
In this case, the goal is to be able to distinguish the Covid-19 from other illnesses including the flu.
Both teams acknowledge that the resulting software would not replace the need for other medical tests.
Cambridge University launched the Covid-19 Sounds project on Tuesday.
Members of the public are being invited to breathe and cough into a computer’s microphone, as well as provide details of their age, gender, approximate location, and whether they have recently tested positive for the coronavirus.
They are then asked to read the following phrase three times: “I hope my data can help to manage the virus pandemic.”
“The aim is to collect enough data to check whether from these sounds we’re able to diagnose people who have Covid-19 and perhaps even the stage of the disease,” explains Prof Cecilia Mascolo.
“If we get this to work, we could perhaps help services such as the UK’s 111 NHS helpline.”
In its first day, about 1,200 people provided recordings, 22 of whom said they had recently tested positive.
The team hopes to have a product ready in as little as two months time.
“The analysis won’t take too long, but it all depends on the quality of the data we collect,” Prof Mascolo adds.
At present, the project is limited to collecting samples via a website, rather than a smartphone app.
This is in part because Apple and Google are restricting who can publish coronavirus-related apps to their stores, and this effort has yet to qualify.