From humanitarian crises to pandemics: technology to the rescue

With its experience in emergency interventions, Humanitas Solutions works to improve communications, logistics and processes during the pandemic

Who could have foreseen that humanitarian activities during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti would, 10 years later, guide the way for researchers, entrepreneurs and Mitacs interns during the COVID-19 crisis?

During his deployment at a Red Cross field hospital after the earthquake, Dr. Abdo Shabah saw the potential for greater use of technology in emergency health interventions.

Upon his return to Canada, he discussed concrete needs with researchers, professionals and industry members in various fields. His reflections led him to create Humanitas Solutions, a company that designs ways to increase security and protect human life.

Mitacs is contributing to Humanitas’ efforts to adapt its technology to the context of hospitals treating people with COVID-19.

Developing simple, robust and affordable technology for hospitals

Over the years, Dr. Shabah’s idea has transformed into a vast collaborative project, mobilizing multiple professors and tens of interns from eight universities, numerous companies and other partner organizations, including the United Nations.

Their efforts have led to the development of simple, robust, affordable tools, including software and equipment adapted to collect and process large amounts of data in real time and designed to be easy to use, without the need for complex training, in times of crisis or devastation. Many of these qualities make this technology just as useful in countries like Canada, where health care systems are strong but overwhelmed by the volume of data produced during the pandemic.

Humanitas technology helps to improve remote working for staff in the health care system, while also making it easier for care teams to share critical information. The company’s products make it easier to locate patients, equipment and essential staff within a health care facility, as well as promoting interconnectivity of new equipment.

In the current project, four Mitacs interns got to work on developing ways of improving coordination between different elements of the hospital system: staff, equipment, structures, and systems. Launched in full lockdown, their work is already being integrated into pandemic management within a Montréal-region hospital.

Master’s student in computer engineering at Polytechnique Montréal, Arthur Daniel-Adde planned to carry out his internship with Humanitas, but never imagined he would be part of efforts to counter a pandemic.

He contributes to ensuring overall system security, with particular focus on user authentication. He also manages a database that collects information from multiple sources — images, sounds, geolocation and other data — all while developing tools to ensure data quality.

“The project has allowed me to work in areas that were already familiar to me, and others in which I only had theoretical knowledge. The crisis has forced the team to work on major and varied needs in a very short time frame. It’s truly formative and it makes me draw on my resourcefulness,” Daniel-Adde states. He is pleased that his internship is allowing him to do useful work and use his knowledge to help society.

Two other master’s-level interns from Polytechnique Montréal, George Popescu and Radu Ionut Popescu, are working on geolocation through designing ‘3D digital twins,’ i.e. three-dimensional reproductions of health care facilities that Humanitas creates in order to carry out simulations ahead of installing equipment. Meanwhile Yishu Malhotra, master’s student at Université de Montréal, is developing filters that ‘clean’ data used by the geolocation system in the hospital environment.

Rapid intervention thanks to Mitacs collaboration

The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Humanitas, Luca Giovanni Gianoli, himself a former Mitacs intern during his doctoral studies between polytechnics in Montréal and Milan (Italy), is categorical in his assessment of the partnership’s value for the company: “Humanitas is an interdisciplinary, collaborative project whose success depends on every contributor. The interns from the Accelerate program who are currently working on the COVID-19 project are part of this effort.”

According to Gianoli, the success of these efforts is directly related to the collaboration that was already in place with Mitacs: “The fact we’ve been able to get this project going so quickly and mobilize interns in the fight against the pandemic is because most of the people involved knew each other already, knew how to work together and shared a common vision.”

Expert in smart connected object design and tenured professor at Polytechnique Montréal, Gabriela Nicolescu is bringing her knowledge of simulations, modelling and Internet of Things security to the Humanitas project, in which she supervises intern Daniel-Adde. As she says, “Previous collaboration between specialists in the information and communications technology, artificial intelligence, health and health technology sectors has been a huge asset in launching a rapid response through this project.”

With the arrival of the pandemic, the team quickly realized that it was facing an information crisis as much as a health crisis. As Nicolescu explains, “There is a lot of information management to do. This is why precise, coherent and fast communication is so important.”

In order to counter the emerging second wave, Humanitas is continuing to optimize the adaptation of its technology to the pandemic context, as informed by users in hospitals. As for medium- and long-term goals, the company and its collaborators foresee not just the development of a more ‘intelligent’ hospital thanks to technology, but a hospital that acts as a nucleus within a system, communicating with other critical services and equipment during large-scale emergency situations.


Mitacs’s programs receive funding from multiple partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country.

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