Microsoft Premonition envisions predicting the distribution and evolution of microbes, viruses, and disease-carrying animals in the Earth’s biome, or the life around us. If the biome could monitor like the weather, environmental pathogens might be detected earlier, and outbreaks predicted before they cause large epidemics.
Today, more than ever, new global sensor networks are needed to protect our health and the health of our economies and societies.
According to Ethan Jackson, senior director of Microsoft Premonition, “Microsoft Premonition changes the paradigm from reacting to known pathogens to continuously looking for them as they evolve, and These signals could help us spot potential threats earlier, respond faster, and develop new interventions before outbreaks occur.”
Microsoft Premonition is an advanced warning system that combines robotic sensing platforms, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and cloud-scale metagenomics to monitor disease-carrying animals such as mosquitoes autonomously, robotically collect environmental samples, and then genomically scan them for biological threats.
Like weather prediction, its analytics pipelines use cloud-scale computing, leveraging the latest advancements in Azure IoT and Azure Data Lake on Microsoft Azure. Today, Premonition’s pipelines have scanned more than 80 trillion base-pairs of genomic material from environmental samples for biological threats.
Newly announced is Microsoft Premonition Cloud, which uses Microsoft Azure for aggregating and analyzing data that is collected by Microsoft Premonition and will be available in the coming weeks through an Early Access Program.
An estimated 60% to 75% of emerging infectious diseases are caused by pathogens that jump from animals to people. This includes viruses like Zika, West Nile, dengue, and, most recently, COVID-19.
When Zika emerged in 2016 in the Americas, the team had researched new monitoring approaches for about a year. They quickly produced a small fleet of prototypes. These early robotic smart traps, resembling scale models of circular, high rise condos, were designed to lure, autonomously identify and capture mosquitoes, providing public health officials with data streams that weren’t previously available. The goal was to help them decide when and where disease-transmitting mosquitoes will be – to understand the risk of Zika better.
Douglas E. Norris, an entomologist and Johns Hopkins University professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, describes as “Game-changing” for Premonition’s impact.
It is a healthier approach for humans and the environment, and a cost-effective approach, especially with COVID-19 stressing the staffing and budget limits of public health departments worldwide, says Norris.
Microsoft Premonition’s robotic sensing platform will capture, collect, aggregate, and analyze data about these tiny and often seemingly unseen threats.
Jackson says, “All of the sensor networks that we have today – networks that do things like collect data to predict weather, collect data about the power grid so that we can load balance it, collect information about what traffic is doing so that we can predict it – all of those sensor networks, which are hundreds and hundreds of millions of sensors – can’t see these important species.”
In 2016, during the peak risk of Zika transmission, ten smart robotic traps were trained in Harris County to identify and selectively capture relevant mosquitoes and did so with about 90% accuracy. Also, metagenomic analyses detected microorganisms and viruses in mosquito specimens and identified the types of animals they fed.
Now, with the upcoming deployment of Microsoft Premonition, Harris County will have a sensor network at scale, providing “continuous biological, situational awareness,” Jackson says. “So, they should be able to look at a map and see in real-time what is happening now. Which, from the weather analogy, doesn’t exist today. A 24-hour forecast allows them to plan early for specific interventions in the environment.”
“We want a future where emerging pathogens like Zika can be detected and suppressed quickly and equitably across Harris County,” says Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health.
Premonition systems are developed in the “Premonition Proving Ground,” a state-of-the-art Arthropod Containment Level 2 (ACL-2) facility. Wild mosquitoes can raise, digitized, and observed to develop identification algorithms and evaluate device designs. The Microsoft Redmond campus is also their hub for computationally scanning environmental samples – obtained and sequenced by collaborating partners – for pathogens.
Stopping disease threats before they cause outbreaks is a cross-disciplinary and cross-industry challenge.
Nicolas Villar, a principal hardware architect in Microsoft Premonition, is designing the next generation of smart robotic traps.
“Along the way, All of them learned that the existing technologies couldn’t operate at scale for biome monitoring. They have to build algorithms, new data-driven models, and a proving ground from the ground up to train those algorithms and models – right from the physical screws and panels to the cloud architectures. That learning took time and effort, but now they get to build a network that can monitor the small – so that they can predict the big.”
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