Polish Tech answers the call

Over the past few weeks, the Polish tech community has rallied together and come up with innovative solutions to help the community and businesses to deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some tech startups had already deployed their products before the outbreak, while others scrambled together to produce a solution in 24 hours, such as was the case with the IHelpYou app. They vary by company size, sectors, the type of technology employed (e.g. AI, 3D printing and SaaS technology) and the problems they solve. But what they tend to share in common is the idea of bringing humans in the physical world together into the virtual world through technology, whether that be co-workers, volunteers, citizens or the authorities. Here is a selection of the Polish tech companies and groups that have answered the call for help.

Volunteer app – IHelpYou

IHelpYou is a volunteer app created by the Polish company IT.focus from Katowice. The developers were inspired by seeing Poles organising efforts on Facebook groups to help out in their communities and wanted to make it easier to do so. Volunteers can sign up through the app and specify if they have a car and what help they are able to offer—walking an animal, doing the shopping and delivery, buying medicine or medical transport or other kinds of help. The volunteers are then displayed by location either on a map or a list and can be contacted by phone number. 

“Currently there are over 6300 registered volunteers,” the app developers say. “In Poland, the app spread very quickly. We did not expect that there would be such a large response. After less than 24 hours, we already had over 1500 registered volunteers.” The app works in 20 languages and has been well received abroad as well, especially in Germany and the UK. The team is working on making the app available in traditional app stores, but for now it can be accessed on a browser and by calling a helpline which was launched a few days after the app was released. “We realise that the elderly, which are those who need help the most, do not use the Internet for the most part. The helpline number is 22 267 17 17,” the team explains.

However, the app does not have a system of verification, so it’s important to be careful when using it. The developers are constantly working to make the app even better. “Soon we will release a new function in the app, which we hope, will solve at least some of the problems of medical facilities related to a lack of equipment, such as gloves, disinfectant, etc.” 

Online education – ADAMED SmartUP platform

Adamed, a leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, launched an interactive educational online game for students who have to stay at home due to the closing of all schools and educational institutions. The company gives students a chance to learn online through the ADAMED SmartUP platform. In addition to educational material on science, the online game, which combines the study of physics, chemistry and biology with some entertainment, was launched on 23 March.

“The platform has actually been functioning for six years already,” says Martyna Strupczewska, head of the ADAMED SmartUP programme. “It is a part of our actions dedicated to supporting education and the development of teenagers who are passionate about science. We also created a scholarship programme for the most talented high school students.”

The game challenges users to come up with ways to approach different fake news scenarios, allowing students to develop critical thinking abilities and information verification skills. “We do believe that one of the most dangerous issues nowadays is information overload and the lack of ability to distinguish real and fake news,” Strupczewska explains. “We experience that every day. The spread of myths destroys the efforts of doctors and other health professionals to keep us as safe as possible. That’s why it is so important to learn to verify information and think critically and our game teaches exactly that.”

Virtual events – MEETING15

The events industry was one of the first to be impacted by the effects of COVID-19. Announcements about the cancellation or postponement of conferences and events continue to be released each day. Even the Council on Foreign Relations in the US cancelled its roundtable called “Doing Business Under Coronavirus”. In January this year, long before COVID-19 had begun to cause havoc around the world, Warsaw-based MEETING15 launched a hybrid event platform allowing for both on-site and virtual events. Now it offers solely virtual solutions for conferences, training and workshops.

CEO Paweł Jabłoński, who co-founded the company in 2016, says that his company has since been receiving hundreds of questions a week. “But at this moment, people are asking: can you help us somehow?’ he says. ‘Next shall be: Ok, now we know this is possible, so let’s do it. So in the next few weeks, we expect to see a massive switch from physical to virtual events.”

Through live streaming in a browser, the participants of an event can individually talk to each other or the lecturers, fill out surveys or access video materials in real-time. The web app also manages 1:1 talks during the event. Because the app is offered in the SaaS model (Software as a Service), all that is needed to participate is internet access and a device with a web browser. 

Jabłoński thinks that our rush to remote work technology may become a permanent feature in business operations, even after the crisis. We may have been drawn to the technology out of necessity, but while doing so, we have opened our eyes to new possibilities. He even goes as far as to say that we’re entering a ‘Stay at Home Revolution’.  “Whether you like it or not, the move to the virtual world is happening,” he says. “This situation just gives us proof. Yes, we can collaborate, we can meet, we can even organise huge events, all thanks to technology. If so, why should we spend millions on events, when we can spend thousands and organise even more efficiently. And you know what? This will help us in the future. If we learn how to use the technology, then another disaster won’t be so painful for the economy.”

3D printed ventilator – Ventilaid

A team of Polish engineers and designers from the company Urbicum, a 3D printer manufacturer, developed a 3D printed ventilator. It is an open-source ventilator that can be produced anywhere due to the accessibility and affordability of its parts. The simple design, which is shared for free, can be realised with parts totalling around 200 zł (€40). 

On their youtube channel, Szymon Chrupczalski says, “We decided to produce a very simple ventilator that can be produced in any place in the world with very basic parts and a 3D printer … If you have a car you can use it as a power supply for the ventilator. You can take some parts from your car and fit it into the ventilator and that will work, so it’s very universal.” 

As of right now, they have completed Prototype I and are working on Prototype II. They seek help and feedback from professionals such as physicians, hospital technicians and engineers with 3D printing experience in order to make their design better. Chrupczalski continues with an explanation of the importance of the project: “We believe that the poorest countries in the world will face the biggest problems around the shortages of medical supplies, especially complicated medical equipment, like ventilators … Ventilators won’t be available in trade [due to excessive demand], but they can be made locally. That’s the main advantage of this project.” The prototype has not been clinically tested yet and VentilAid is meant to be a last resort device.

Maja Schaefer and Maciej Ciolek from Chatbotize
AI Chatbot – Chatbotize

An official chatbot has been launched by the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland to provide Poles quick access to up-to-date, verified and official information about the COVID-19 outbreak and measures taken by the government. The chatbot was created by Maja Schaefer and Maciej Ciołek from the Polish startup Chatbotize, whose chatbots are already used by the insurance company Aviva, PKO Bank Polski, courier and parcel locker company InPost and the international food company Maspex, among others. 

The AI Chatbot can be accessed through Facebook Messenger and is powered by machine-learning technology, where the virtual assistant learns on an ongoing basis with its answers becoming more accurate and broader as it processes requests. Its pool of knowledge is also updated based on official information provided by the Ministry of Health.

“We want to give as many people as possible access to a reliable source of knowledge,” Schaefer told Forbes when the app was first launched in March. “The [National Health Fund – NFZ] hotline is manned by people and this is its biggest limitation. The chatbot is the first support line and helps by relieving the workload on the system. Of course, for more complex issues phone contact will still be necessary.”

Data analytics – Monitoring COVID-19 by Spotdata

Polish company SpotData has created an interactive data centre where graphs and tables are updated daily to allow Poles to compare the progress of the COVID-19 in Poland and around the world. The graphs allow for the comparison of confirmed cases, deaths and confirmed cases from the moment its amount surpassed 100. The interactive table includes additional information such as confirmed cases per one million people and the number of recoveries by country. The tool was created by SpotData’s analyst Kamil Pastor. 

#DrukarzeDlaSzpitali

#DrukarzeDlaSzpitali (Printers for Hospitals) is an initiative designed to help supply hospitals with medical equipment during the pandemic through the use of 3D printers. The combined efforts of designers, builders, engineers and volunteers make the 3D printing of necessary items such as goggles and protective visors possible. On TVN’s Dzień Dobry morning programme, Bartosz Jarkiewicz, a spokesperson for the group, shared that the initiative is constantly growing. “We are able to make 1000-12000 visors daily. At this moment we are talking with plants which handle mass production … Then our production capacity will increase enormously. Ultimately, we want to produce 100,000 visors.” 

The hospitals receive the packages of supplies at no cost to them. However, due to time constraints, the printed equipment has not undergone official tests so they are to be used as last resort devices. The initiative is a non-profit and is funded through donations. 

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