University Park, IL,
11:38 AM

Governors State Drone Expert Explains How Robots, Technology are Fighting COVID-19

Just as there is education in adversity, there is strength in unity.

In the face of the rising COVID-19 pandemic, a worldwide collaboration has ensued between scientists and engineers to slow and eventually stop the spread of the virus. Aslam “Sam” Shahid, Governors State University professor of Computer Science and head of GSU’s robotics team, sees artificial intelligence (AI) as more important now than ever.

By shifting the view of the virus to a complex puzzle, engineers are using super computers, quantum computers, or distributed computers, multiple computers working together, to attempt to crack the code that neutralizes the virus.

“The computers are simulating the complex model and studying the genetic code in order to narrow down possible compounds that can counter COVID-19, and then they’re giving that feedback to scientists. They haven’t had a bullseye yet, but they’re making progress,” Shahid said.

The level of computing required to simulate different compounds in numerous trials takes a tremendous amount of power that is beyond the capabilities of a regular computer. That’s how projects like Folding@home came about. The project enlists volunteers to donate their computer power by creating a login and then leaving their computers running so they can be used remotely as part of the simulation process.

To Shahid, technology’s assistance in the pandemic doesn’t stop there. Drone technology is also being used currently to deliver medicine to quarantined areas and to support shelter-in-place regulations.

“We are witnessing now the power drones and robotics can have. They’re sampling air to see if the virus is airborne, and when a vaccine is created robotics will deliver the supply to fit the demand. Outside of delivering food and medicine, robots are saving lives in the hospitals by disinfecting patients' and operating rooms related to COVID-19 This collaboration between science and technology is key,” he said.

Recognized by the elite Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) as having a University Model Aviation Student Club (UMASC), Governors State has a history of teaching this technology to students from grade seven to university level.

Shahid believes students should have access to this information and training as early as possible.

“I teach workshops in GSU’s STEAM camp on aviation, to explain how airplanes and drones fly and have co-taught the robotics course. The GSU Jedi Team, a robotics team of students grades 7-12, were finalists at this year’s First Tech Challenge and awarded medals and trophies,” Shahid said.

“We’re witnessing the power of technology––robotics, drones, AI, super computers, quantum computers, etc.––and it’s emphasizing more than ever how important it is for students to not just have access to learning about it early, but how to create and design this technology. It can save lives.”