On the Trail of the Virus

IAV has developed a methodology for deriving information on the spread of Covid-19 through intelligent evaluation of wastewater data. This enables a much earlier detection and more precise localization of infection foci.

Until an effective vaccine against Covid-19 is available, the early identification of outbreaks of infection remains one of the major challenges to prevent the further spread of the virus. Time is of the essence. The problem: Several weeks can easily elapse between an infection, the appearance of the first symptoms, a smear sample, the availability of a test result and the notification of the responsible authorities. In the meantime, the virus can spread unnoticed.

However, the RNA pathogen (ribonucleic acid) is directly detectable in wastewater. “If we merge data from wastewater samples with public test and infection data and evaluate it in an integrated manner, we can detect a wave of infection earlier and localize it more precisely than was previously possible,” says Dr. Matthias Pätsch, responsible for Business Development Water Management at IAV. The early warning system created by him and his team is based on two developments: an intelligent, cloud-based IoT platform for data synthesis and evaluation that has already been tried and tested in practice and an AI-based method for the intelligent positioning of devices in the sewerage system that can take samples automatically (so-called samplers).

Dem Virus auf der Spur

In this project, IAV is cooperating with the Technical University of Berlin (Institute for Urban Water Management) and ORI Abwassertechnik GmbH, a leading manufacturer of automated samplers with remote data transmission for sewer systems. The TU Berlin is responsible for the sampling and analysis of the samples, while ORI GmbH supplies the samplers and measurement technology. IAV in turn provides the IT environment, is responsible for data analysis and evaluation and thus forms the bracket of the entire project.

The IoT Platform from IAV records – in strict compliance with legal data protection regulations – the publicly available health data of government offices and other public institutions as well as the data of connected samplers, evaluates these in real time and displays the results on a topographical and individually scalable map.

To identify where the samplers should be positioned in the sewerage system, IAV is investigating and testing the use of artificial intelligence based on a so-called Bayesian network. “With the help of initial sampling in the sewage treatment plant and sewer system, historical data on previous infection spreads and data on infection foci from human tests, the probability of positive samples at a specific point in the sewer system can be calculated,” says Pätsch. The aim is to take further samples in the sewer system, which is filled with thousands of inflows and outflows, at precisely those nodes that promise a high hit rate – and thus have a particularly high significance for the localization of an infection event.

«With our AI-supported method, we are able to achieve a meaningful result more quickly. This saves valuable time in the detection and localization of an emerging focus of infection.»

Dr. Matthias Pätsch — Responsible for Business Development Water Management at IAV

The concept of the early detection system is currently in the implementation phase. The next step is the test deployment in a pilot project with individual cities or districts.

IAV is also setting up an early detection system at its Gifhorn site. IAV’s own PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test equipment is being used in this cross-divisional project. The rapid tests are already being used to carry out initial tests to determine corona RNA in the company’s wastewater system.

The article was published in automotion 03/2020, the automotive engineering magazine of IAV. Here you can order the automotion free of charge.

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