COVID cough app Hyfe launches in UK and Ireland

Hyfe data

A smartphone app that uses artificial intelligence to assess the sound of coughing has been launched in the UK, and according to its developer could be an early warning system for COVID-19 and other diseases of the lung. 

Hyfe uses acoustic technology to track users’ coughing habits, gauging factors like volume, frequency, amplitude and context, whilst running in the background on an iOS or Android device. It was originally developed as a tool for people living in heavily polluted cities who are at risk of respiratory conditions.

“Over time, users can see how frequently they cough through a dashboard on the…smartphone app,” according to the company behind the platform, also called Hyfe.

“This can help users get insights into their base level coughing habits so that they can spot anomalies as quickly as possible.”

The company claims the app can serve as a diagnostics tool to help users identify underlying illnesses and even help curb the spread of coronavirus.

Hyfe has overcome the main challenge of detecting a cough and distinguishing it from another sound, and says that means coughing has become “objective, reliable clinical data”, which means it can be deployed in the context of clinical trials or routine healthcare monitoring via telemedicine.

The company doesn’t have published clinical evidence yet that Hyfe could spot the cough characteristic of COVID-19 or other diseases, but prior studies of other technologies suggest this is feasible.

Another AI-based algorithm developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was able to detect around 98% of cases of COVID-19 from a forced cough delivered down a cell phone – confirmed by coronavirus testing – according to a study reported last November.

The app was also 100% effective in correctly diagnosing COVID-19 in people with no symptoms but who had tested positive for the virus, although it had a high false positive rate among this group.

Hyfe thinks its app has an advantage because it tracks naturally-occurring rather than forced coughs, drawing on more data, and could eventually have a part to play in using cough patterns as a biomarker in asthma, croup, lung cancer and pertussis.

“Coughing is a universal human behaviour that can reveal a huge amount about a person’s wellbeing. Despite this, coughing is commonly overlooked, and Hyfe hopes to change that,” said Iulian Circo, one of the company’s co-founders.

“Our goal is to allow anyone with a smartphone to receive instant, accurate diagnostic support, whether they are an asthma sufferer in London or a mother of an ill child in rural Africa.”