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UW ECE Launches New BSECE Degree Program

UW ECE faculty and students respond to COVID-19

June 4, 2020

Illustration of the novel coronavirus

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals the structure exhibited by coronaviruses. The spikes that adorn the outer surface look like a corona surrounding the core of the virus when viewed under an electron microscope. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Illustration is courtesy of the CDC.

Faculty and students in the University of Washington Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (UW ECE) are leading collaborative research across campus and with other institutions aimed at reducing impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Their work ranges from assisting with diagnostics, testing and tracking, to engineering ventilator technology, to developing targeted treatments for the disease. Below are summaries of a few of these projects and at the bottom of the page are links leading to several ways you can help fight COVID-19. Make sure to visit our COVID-19 resources page to view a complete, frequently updated list of UW ECE research projects, as well as links to more information.

Targeted treatments, diagnostic testing, and data analysis

UW ECE Professor and Chair Eric Klavins is leading two large research projects funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The first is in collaboration with the Director of the Institute for Protein Design, David Baker, who is also a member of the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute. Baker’s lab is heavily involved in discovery of targeted treatments for COVID-19, and Klavins’ lab is collaborating by using Aquarium, software Klavins developed to help build reproducible experimental protocols and workflows. Aquarium helps Baker’s scientists and lab technicians conduct research and experiments at a faster rate and standardize data documentation.

Klavins’ second project is in collaboration with Boston University and Duke University. It is focused on adapting Aquarium software to repurpose labs for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and data analysis.

“There are a limited number of labs ready to do high-complexity clinical diagnostic testing,” said Devin Strickland, a senior research scientist in Klavins’ lab. “Many academic labs certainly have people who are perfectly qualified to do experiments, but they don’t have the procedural knowledge of how to do COVID-19 testing. What we’re hoping to address is how to quickly repurpose labs that are not clinical diagnostic labs.”

Ventilator technology

man sewing a mask with help from a robotic device

Professor Blake Hannaford is shown making personal protective equipment (PPE) with aid from a robotic assistant. Hannaford and UW Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student Andrew Lewis are working on a dynamic new COVID-19 ventilator technology project as part of a coordinated effort with PATH, UW Medicine, GIX and several other UW units.

UW ECE Professor Blake Hannaford and UW Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student Andrew Lewis are working on a dynamic new COVID-19 ventilator technology project as part of a coordinated effort with PATH, UW Medicine, GIX and several other UW units. The project also involves a team of external ventilator experts and several undergraduate UW students. More details are on the project’s GoFundMe webpage.

Geographic disease tracking

UW ECE Professor Les Atlas and his team are working on a project to give more insight into the directions of transmissions of COVID-19 infections using algorithms and signal processing developed for estimating the direction of arrival of sonar and cellular radio signals. The results are expected to be helpful in travel and policy decisions. The Office of Naval Research funds this work.

Contact tracing

UW ECE Adjunct Associate Professor Sham Kakade has created a COVID-19 contact-tracing app, working with the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) and Microsoft Research. Listen to Professor Kakade’s interview with Harvard Business School about contact tracing here.

Disease monitoring and accurate screening

Researchers in the UbiComp Lab, led by UW ECE and CSE Professor Shwetak Patel, developed a smartphone-based rapid diagnostic test result scan (RDTScan), which uses computer vision techniques to assist the user in capturing a high-quality image of their completed test for an infectious disease, combined with an algorithm that automatically analyzes the result. This improves the accuracy and consistency of test results while also enabling researchers and public health officials to gather data about community-level disease prevalence. After initially focusing on infectious diseases such as malaria and influenza, the team is currently building out a new open-source RDTScan library that will enable developers to extend these capabilities to new COVID-19 RDTs as they come onto the market. The development team can be reached at

Professor Patel is also developing a smartphone-based app for monitoring patient coughs — a frequent symptom of COVID-19 — to aid patient recovery and to identify potential new cases of the disease. The project, which is a collaboration with clinicians at UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s Hospital and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and National Institutes of Health (NIH), builds on the lab’s previous work on CoughSense and will employ a combination of the phone’s microphone and an algorithm capable of distinguishing coughs from other sounds to measure their frequency. The team is in discussions with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about the project, which aims to alleviate capacity pressures on the health care system by enabling providers to remotely monitor the condition of patients recovering at home. The app could also be used to monitor the condition of persons under investigation who have had contact with confirmed cases but have not yet begun displaying symptoms. The researchers are currently inviting people to participate in an online study collecting human coughs and other vocalizations to refine the algorithm that powers the app. For more information, see coverage by UW News, Slate, PBS NewsHour and KING5 News.

How you can help

Help monitor the incidence of COVID-19 by taking a survey

The CoronaSurveys project is a collaborative endeavor by researchers at several universities and institutions, including UW ECE Professor and Associate Chair of Advancement Payman Arabshahi. Data about COVID-19 cases is collected via anonymous open surveys (all the data collected is openly available) and used to create estimations on the incidence and evolution of COVID-19. You can help by regularly completing the anonymous survey.

Donate online

You can help provide financial support for UW ECE’s COVID-19 research efforts by making a donation online. Visit the university’s “Together We Will” webpage for more opportunities to help support immediate medical needs, students and staff impacted by COVID-19, and long-term response and recovery efforts.

Together, we will overcome these challenges. Learn more about the UW’s response to COVID-19.