Insights

MIT-Affiliated Companies Take on Covid-19

A variety of companies with MIT ties are working to address aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

March 26, 2020


Zach Winn
MIT News Office

Covid molecule up close

As the world grapples with the public health crises and myriad disruptions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, many efforts to address its impact are underway.

Several of those initiatives are being led by companies that were founded by MIT alumni, professors, students, and researchers.

These companies’ efforts are as wide ranging and complex as the challenges brought on by Covid-19. They leverage expertise in biological engineering, mobile technology, data analytics, community engagement, and other fields MIT has long focused on.

The companies, a few of whom are featured here, are also at very different stages of deployment, but they are all driven by a desire to use science, engineering, and entrepreneurship to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

Pathr is a startup that uses data analytics and machine learning to understand how people move through environments. The company, which has primarily used its technology to help retailers, casino operators, and owners of public spaces gain insights into customer behavior, recently launched a new product called SocialDistance.ai.

SocialDistance.ai will use Pathr’s “spatial intelligence” platform to give operators of large spaces information on how infectious diseases might spread in different scenarios.

Pathr’s platform can be used to simulate the spread of infectious diseases in different scenarios. In this video playlist, simulations incorporating measures such as social distancing (second video) and mask distribution (third video) are shown.

SocialDistance.ai was formed when Pathr’s team got locked down in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the company is based, and began thinking about how their technology could help address disruptions related to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“There’s a spatial component to disease outbreak in general, and we’ve been hearing a lot about that with this coronavirus, so that was the spark, just thinking about what we could do to help,” says Pathr founder and CEO George Shaw SM ’11.

Shaw says his team has been in touch with officials who run malls, casinos, retail stores, and various public spaces to help them make more informed decisions about allowing people to use their spaces in the time periods surrounding an outbreak.

“Nobody who operates a big space wants to limit the number of people [in that space], so this would be a way to strike that balance, to get the right social distance, the right density of crowds; it could also help owners reconfigure a space so the flow of people is more conducive to social distancing,” Shaw says.

Shaw developed the spatial intelligence platform as a graduate student in the lab of Professor Deb Roy while working on a project in the Media Lab.

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