What is Project Premonition? It’s a system designed to detect infectious disease outbreaks before they become widespread, with the goal of preventing major health disasters. They want to detect infectious disease outbreaks before people get sick. The system takes advantage of a number of cutting-edge technologies. Project Premonition leverages autonomous drones, robotic mosquito traps, molecular biology and cloud-based data analysis. The science here is not only amazing, it’s very clever. Project Premonition is using mosquitoes as a blood sampling device for animals. Collecting large groups of mosquitoes and analyzing their bodies for pathogens. Gene sequencing is used for pathogen detection, then the data is computationally searched for known and unknown pathogens in sequenced genetic material. I think the unknown pathogens part is particularly cool. The whole project is very Minority Report.
All this technology and science searching for infectious diseases. What are these emerging infectious diseases that Project Premonition is trying to identify?
Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are diseases whose incidence has increased in the last two decades. EIDs can be caused by both previously unrecognized pathogens and pathogens whose incidence continues to rise, re-surge, re-emerge, or expand in range. Current examples include diseases such as Ebola, Chikungunya, Dengue, SARS, and MERS. They pose significant human health, economic, and security risks.
Project Premonition: Seeking to prevent disease outbreaks
I like this quote from the Project Premonition homepage. I think it shows clearly that Microsoft realizes this is a long term (and expensive) project and is willing to support it nonetheless.
“This is at least a five-year vision, no doubt about it. But along the way, the advances we make in each of these areas have a lot of value in their own right.” – Ethan Jackson, Lead Researcher, Project Premonition
DroneLife.com had an interesting piece on Project Premonition. I liked it because they took the time to mention that Microsoft is working with the FAA (hopefully in ways that will help the entire drone community), and because they talked about the need to build safe cyber-physical systems.
Microsoft researchers are beginning to develop ways to make the drones more autonomous, and they also are working with Federal Aviation Administration officials on regulatory requirements.
Jeannette Wing, Microsoft’s corporate vice president overseeing the company’s core research labs, said the ability to make drones that can carefully navigate an environment on their own is key to another, broader goal of Project Premonition: Building safer cyber-physical systems.
A cyber-physical system is any computer-based system that interacts with the real world, including everything from implanted medical devices to drones to driverless cars. It’s much more complicated to safeguard a cyber-physical system than, say, a software program because there are other factors to think about beyond just code, like wind, temperature or pedestrians.
As people grow more dependent on these types of systems, and the Internet of Things evolves, Wing said computer scientists need to be thinking ahead about ways to ensure that they are safe before they are in wide use.
“The safety of all these cyber-physical systems is paramount,” she said. “We need to get ahead of the game.”
If you liked the video above but are interested in more details, you can check the long form below.
Project Premonition: Seeking to prevent disease outbreaks (extended version)
You can also check out the Microsoft Research channel at YouTube.
Update: Recently found another article on the Project Premonition, this time on AviRobotic, “Drones could help prevent future disease outbreaks.”