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Crazy new smartphone app listens to your cough to diagnose coronavirus

Published Apr 7th, 2020 9:36AM EDT
coronavirus app
Image: Anut21ng Photo/Shutterstock

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  • Scientists built a web-based app that listens to your voice and the sound of your cough to determine the likelihood that you have a coronavirus infection. 
  • The app is still experimental and isn’t ready to be used on a wide scale, but it shows promise as a potential early screening tool for the future. 
  • Lack of testing across the United States and the world at large has forced many countries to ration test kits or avoid using them in cases where they otherwise might. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Want to know if you have coronavirus? Just cough at a microphone on your iPhone or Android. It sounds silly, but that’s the idea behind a new experimental app built by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. With the help of artificial intelligence, the app analyzes the sound of your cough (assuming you have that symptom) and other vocalizations to determine whether or not you sound sick with COVID-19.

We’re now several months into the global coronavirus pandemic but many countries, including the United States, are still struggling with testing for the virus. Tests aren’t widely available, and doctors in many areas have been forced to ration them and decide who gets tested and who doesn’t. New types of tests are in the works, but it may be a while before everyone who wants to get tested can actually receive one.

The web-based app — which, at the time of this writing is currently down for maintenance — is called COVID Voice Detector, and the process of actually using it is fairly straightforward.

As Futurism reports, once you’re logged in you’re asked to cough three times and then do some regular speaking. This includes reading through the alphabet and holding vowel sounds until you run out of breath, giving the system an idea of your overall lung capacity. The app’s algorithms then crunch all your data and give you a score from 1 to 10. The higher your score, the closer your readings resemble someone who has COVID-19.,f_auto,fl_progressive,q_80,w_1600/yz2sektjhymfpw3aplre.png

A blurb on the site reads:

Our goal is to develop a voice-based testing system for assessing risk of COVID-19, that could potentially reach every person in the world. ​Please contribute to our efforts to combat the disease. By contributing a short recording and your COVID status, you will enable us to build audio-based warning systems to help fight the epidemic.

The app is obviously still early in its development and testing, and the team that built it is by no means suggesting that the results it produces should be used to diagnose a coronavirus infection in anyone. However, it’s a small step toward that lofty goal, and as companies around the world rush to create coronavirus tests on a massive scale, there may eventually be room for an app such as this to act as an early screening tool for potential COVID-19 patients.

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