We are experiencing a once-in-a-century global pandemic, which has had a profound impact on all of humankind. Even people who have not been infected have seen unprecedented disruptions to their everyday lives, with overburdened health systems, business shutdowns leading to job losses, and food shortages, among others. This pandemic is a clear wake-up call, reminding us to be better prepared as a society to deal with these challenges.

Connecting researchers and developers

Earlier this year, at Cisco Research, we wanted to step up to the challenge of pandemic preparedness by soliciting research proposals that address both the science and technology aspects of problems around detection, mitigation, and analysis of COVID-19. Cisco Research is part of the Emerging Technologies & Incubation (ET&I) group at Cisco, and has had a long tradition of connecting researchers and developers from Cisco, academia, governments, customers, and industry partners. Our goal is facilitating collaboration and exploration of new and promising technologies with strong societal, technological, and business impact.

Saving lives

When it comes to COVID-19, on the technology front, there is an incredibly wide range of opportunities for mitigating the impact of the disease, from predictive analytics, to innovative life-saving devices, to rapid disease-detecting technology. The potential social and economic impacts are huge and some of the work can be transformative and save lives.

US$1 million in research funds awarded

We posted our request for proposal (RFP) in June 2020, generating the largest number of proposals we have ever received, with a wide range of ideas to solve this crisis. Out of these submissions, we selected 14 proposals and awarded a total of US$1 million in research funds to various universities and nonprofits around the world. As principal engineer and RFP co-author Amit Kumar Saha from Cisco Bangalore notes, “We were truly humbled by the response we got. We are delighted to announce that we funded a number of very exciting research proposals, most of them focusing on topics for expediting a cure or understanding the socio-economic impact of this pandemic. Collectively, these proposals give us hope that the world will come out of this stronger and better.”

Research topics

The selected proposals target research in a wide range of technology areas, including:

  • Near infrared nano-sensors for rapid detection of positive cases
  • Expanding use of video technology to improve mid-level health care providers’ infection control management in rural/urban health care settings
  • Enhanced signal recognition for amplification-free detection of COVID-19 infection,
  • Analyzing the socio-economic aspects of COVID-19 in the developing world
  • Novel methods for testing, prediction, and intervention of COVID-19

By funding these studies and cultivating strong partnerships between scientists, technologists, and the broader community, our hope is that we can accelerate research outcomes, improve how technology shapes our response to pandemics, and help break the panic-then-forget cycle in order to build a resilient post-COVID world.

Dr. Tutan Ahmed, from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, was awarded Cisco Research funds to analyze how COVID disrupted the labor market. He states, “Covid has provided a rare opportunity of a natural experiment setting to understand the structure, pattern and the value of informal labor market networks. However, large-scale primary data collection is expensive and time-consuming. The generous grant provided by Cisco allows us to do a large-scale survey of the migrants and non-migrants in West Bengal, India, and consequently study the structure, pattern, and value of the informal migrant labor market.”

We anticipate results from some of the research projects as early as the summer of 2021, and look forward to sharing some of these successes in a future blog.

Our research funding is only part of Cisco’s broad response to COVID-19 in 2020. We have worked closely with customers, suppliers, and partners to ensure they have the products, solutions, and resources to operate effectively in virtual environments across the globe. And we have supported communities by donating US$53 million in cash and personal protective equipment to organizations supporting people most vulnerable to the health and economic effects of the pandemic.

You can read more about our overall response to the pandemic in our latest CSR Impact Report, starting on page 14.