This startup aims to answer all coronavirus-related queries through its AskDoc chatbot
In 2014, when Ankush Sabharwal was travelling from Delhi to Bengaluru, a co-passenger’s mother fell unconscious. Ankush and other fellow passengers tried but failed to find a doctor on the train, and the passenger and his mother had to disembark at the next station to go to a nearby hospital.
“The next day, as I was going across coaches to find a plug point to charge my phone, there happened to be a doctor in another coach,” Ankush recalls.
He asked what if passengers on trains, buses, and flights could connect on an app? A few years later in 2016, Ankush co-founded CoRover in Bengaluru, along with Rahul Ranjan, Manav Gandotra, and Kunal Bhakhri.
uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to connect travellers, administrative staff, and verified and curated service providers on its conversational, contextual, multi-lingual, and omnichannel platform, Ask Disha.
At present, the startup’s conversational AI platform Ask Disha has over 20 billion interactions, and is used by over 200 million users. CoRover has also applied for two patents for its product.
Helping with COVID-19 queries
With the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos all around, CoRover is looking at answering queries and clearing doubts people might have around the disease.
To this effect, it launched AI-based doctor-video bot AskDoc, which addresses queries related to the novel coronavirus transmission and contagion control. The platform is also supported by multilingual voice and text formats, like Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, and even French and German.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a stir in our lives, bringing uncertainty, psychological stress, health anxiety, social distancing, quarantine, and financial stress with income and savings on the backburner. The healthcare community is doing an exceptional job in these tough times. But burnout among the healthcare community is a serious cause of concern,” Ankush says.
He believes that most queries can be answered by an AI-bot doctor. AskDoc provides its users with automatic, quick responses to queries about the coronavirus along with safety measures announced by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, and WHO.
“CoRover’s AskDoc helps any user to know all about the COVID-19 pandemic by letting them interact with doctors for free through video, voice, or text interaction. It can answer queries like 'Is there a vaccine, drug, or treatment for COVID-19?', 'How likely am I to catch COVID-19?' or 'Is it safe to eat non-vegetarian food?' ”
How does AskDoc work?
On the AskDoc app, users can initiate queries on different interfaces, and the chatbot backend takes the user queries and passes it through various layers of the framework.
Launched just a week back, AskDoc helps people interact with doctors globally for any queries related to coronavirus. It provides auto and quick responses to the queries along with safety measures.
A user can log into the app, where they can either text input, voice, or video. AskDoc can also be accessed on the web, which is primarily a chat-based portal to answer basic questions.
As of now, the team is working to bring in an email integration. The platform works as a resource for information, and even guides people to different government-approved platforms for answers and helplines.
The information about COVID-19 is per the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, and has been authenticated by physician Dr Pratik Yashavant Patil, who specialises in infectious diseases. The team has also worked with the government for the database.
Some of the common queries that you can ask are -
- What is COVID-19?
- What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
- How does coronavirus spread?
- How likely am I to catch COVID-19?
- Who is at risk of developing severe illness?
- Is there a vaccine, drug, or treatment for COVID-19?
- Should I wear a mask to protect myself?
- Should we stop smoking?
- Is there anything I should not do?
- What is your advice on travel?
CoRover is working with several healthcare providers (hospitals, clinics, doctors) across the world to create video bots for doctors in various specialisations like gynaecology, oncology, diabetology, psychology, dental, and more.
The AI-based IVRBot from CoRover also helps patients to book, reschedule, and cancel appointments. AskDoc provides vernacular and voice support to maximise the reachability to target users. It can also work without the internet and on feature phones, using SMS.
“It is easy to train the bot using proprietary CBML (Chatbot Markup Language). It is also quick/easy to integrate (in just 10 minutes) with any website, app (iOS, Android), Facebook Messenger, Slack, Google Assistant, Email, SMS, Line, WhatsApp, IVR, Twitter, Skype, or any available APIs,” Ankush says.
The team is looking at different integrations for different companies and startups, if needed. CoRover is working to make sure all security measures and protocols are taken care of. “We are working with data security on a daily basis, as healthcare information is sensitive,” Ankush adds.
The answer data generated is primarily owned by the user; the startup merely uses the data to understand the commonly asked questions to provide auto prompt and better its chatbot.
The internal workings
When a user inputs a query on the chatbot, the AI engine suggests predefined questions based on the keywords entered. If the query is a direct match to a pre-existing question, it reflects the answer. Otherwise, the new query is passed to the Artificial Intelligence Mark-up Language (AIML) layer.
The AIML is meant to help develop interactive chatbots. To compensate for the simple pattern matching capabilities, its interpreters can provide pre-processing functions to expand abbreviations, remove wrong spellings, etc.
“If the aim is to primarily build a Q/A system, we can treat conversations as input Q/A pairs, where each sentence in the conversation is both an answer to a previous sentence, and a question to the next sentence. That is, each sentence appears in two Q/A pairs,” Ankush says.
The chatbot yields three types of responses: standard reply, response, and a live chat. If AskDoc doesn’t understand a query or further assistance is needed, the programme opens a live chat where the customer can directly chat with a customer care executive.
Clients and future plans
Some of the others working in the space include, which has launched a free WhatsApp chatbot to answer queries.
A Hansa Cequity Customer Experience Trends Report suggests that the chatbot market will touch $2.3 billion by the end of 2020.
The big five – Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon – have already dived deep into this space. Big brands in India, including ecommerce companies, banks, insurance firms, travel companies, and entertainment firms, have already started implementing chatbots. So have public sector enterprises.
CoRover, which claims to be making monthly revenue of Rs 2 crore, serves clients like IRCTC,, Google, Microsoft, Niti Aayog, and Amazon.
Looking ahead, Ankush says CoRover is looking at different use cases for its chatbot platform.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta and Suman Singh