Startups fight COVID-19: From hospital beds to oxygen, this WhatsApp chatbot provides instant, verified leads on COVID resources

IntroBot, built by Divyaansh Anuj and Utkarsh Roy, is a chatbot for COVID-19 resources. Powered by a team of 400 volunteers and collaborations with several initiatives such as Covid Citizens, IntroBot is fast becoming the go-to-resource for verified leads to secure life-saving medical resources.
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As a deadly second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic ravages through India, people across the country are relying on each other and on technological innovations to find life-saving medical resources. 

Indeed, as people desperately look for verified information to locate hospital beds and find oxygen cylinders, plasma, medicines, and other such resources, one tech innovation — a WhatsApp chatbot called IntroBot — is fast becoming the go-to resource for instant, verified pan-India leads.

IntroBot, which is built by entrepreneurs Divyaansh Anuj and Utkarsh Roy, is a WhatsApp AI community chatbot that is powered by a team of 400 volunteers and collaborations with initiatives like COVID Citizens and others in the Indian startup ecosystem. 

By sharing real-time, verified leads on everything — from hospital beds to oxygen, plasma, medicines, and other much-sought-after COVID resources — IntroBot is helping those on the ground save precious time and precious lives. 

Watch our full video for more about IntroBot's solution:

How to use IntroBot?

So how can someone look for information use IntroBot? All you need is a WhatsApp account and then you can add the IntroBot Covid chatbot number (+1-234-517-8991). 

Users can start by sending a WhatsApp message saying COVID. The bot then responds asking you to specify what you need in x in y format. 

What this means is you’ll need to type in the resource you’re looking for and the name of the location. For example, you can ask for leads for an oxygen bed in Delhi or plasma in Meerut

The bot then sends you a verified lead of a supplier whom you can contact. 

Co-founder Utkarsh explains,

“If I as a user am looking for oxygen cylinders in Kolkata, our bot would quickly look into the real-time database and provide the user with a few verified numbers for that resource. The user would have to call that number and the magic we do on the back-end is that we load-balance the request. So, we make sure that out of the whole list of more than 18,000 suppliers, we distribute the request across different suppliers in a given city so that they can also handle such requests.”

Once a user finds a resource shared by IntroBot useful, all they need to do is send a message saying they found it helpful. 

If not, they can respond saying otherwise — i.e., unresponsive, out of stock, or invalid — and the bot automatically shares another verified lead with them. 

Through this way, the IntroBot team is able to constantly verify information in real-time and ensure the leads are updated. This also enables the bot to share these updated, verified leads with those who need them the most on the ground. 

To be sure, the simplicity of the process adds to its popularity. “The best part is that no one has to download an app, or go to a website. It’s right there on the phones if you have WhatsApp. And we have deliberately kept it simple and thought through every single message that goes out. We have also thought about data privacy and making sure that it’s super user friendly and helpful for people on the ground who are frantically looking for such information,” Utkarsh adds.

IntroBot impact

To be clear, enabling information democratisation will be critical in the IntroBot team’s mission to save millions of lives amidst this pandemic. 

Utkarsh says, “Divyaansh and I constantly talk about information democratisation and want to make sure that anybody who has a smartphone in India gets access to this information. Because the problem that we’re seeing in this country is that some people have a lot of access whereas there are many others who don’t. And that’s been seen across medicine supply, across vaccines, across information, across access to doctors and so on. We want to change that. We want to ensure that we can impact people at the grassroots level.”

Image Credits: Shutterstock

And that’s exactly what Introbot has been able to achieve in just the first week of its launch. 

In seven days alone, IntroBot has helped over 500,000 people on the ground, of which at least 20,000 have said they found the leads helpful. By this measure, at least 15,000 lives have likely been saved through IntroBot, estimates Utkarsh.

Admittedly, IntroBot has helped save thousands of lives — all thanks to the contributions of a passionate team of volunteers and of like-minded initiatives and organisations like COVID Citizens, COVIDFYI, Fireside, Wakefit, School of Accelerated Learning, Indian School of Business, and several others in the Indian startup ecosystem. 

“Our mission as a group is to save a million lives at the very least by the end of this month. And we’re all gathering our horsepower, our resources, our intellects, our skills, our friends and families to be ready for the big wave and the peak that is coming up in June or July,” says Utkarsh.

Leveraging tech and community for good 

This massive preparation by a team of technologists and innovators and enablers in the Indian startup ecosystem includes efforts being made to launch several other technological innovations. 

One such innovation is providing vernacular support to help people beyond the Tier I and II cities, which is due to be launched this week

Another is on crowdsourcing leads from Twitter and parsing the information being shared in various form factors on social media.

“We’re also working on a Twitter bot which would actually go through all Twitter requests which have COVID 19 hashtags. The Twitter bot will go through and make sure that we instantly reply to them. Because they’re probably not aware of the WhatsApp bot. We are already building that. We’re already making sure we collect leads from Instagram, Facebook groups, Twitter, and put it in the central database,” Utkarsh says.

Having a central database that is trusted and reflective of the dynamic changes on the ground, Utkarsh says, is a major focus. 

“Everybody has understood by this time that people need leads and medical information. That’s not the big aspect. The big aspect is how do we compile a central database across India which is both trusted, verified, removes all the fraud information, and makes sure we can trust the suppliers and on the other hand, is very very dynamic,” he says.

This means ensuring that there's accurate, verified information being shared about whether an oxygen cylinder that is available at a particular supplier in say Chhattisgarh or Raipur at 12 pm is still available at 3 pm.

This is particularly important as the situation on the ground is changing rapidly, with resources running out quickly as COVID-affected families on the ground reach out to these same suppliers to source life-saving resources.

“We have put a lot of volunteer effort as well as tech effort to track the dynamic change that is happening. We also make sure we’re verifying it real-time by leveraging the community using our chatbot and tech because we understand that people alone cannot do it,” Utkarsh says.

More to be done

In addition to these efforts, the team is also looking to add counselling services going forward. 

In fact, the goal is to become a one-stop 911-based audio solution that people can use to get the help they need, whether it is to get information or to assign a concierge service or a volunteer who can help them on the ground or remotely. 

The team is also building a bot that focuses on the supply side so that details about supplies can also be added in the hope that more people can be helped. 

Image source: Shutterstock

“We understand that time is of the essence right now because every minute we are saving lives. So everybody is working 24/7. And we all have our backups and we’re constantly churning out code, tech innovation and doing constant outreach efforts. So this is just the start,” Utkarsh says about the team of volunteers and like-minded collaborators working together on this project. 

Still, as the team races against time to fight the COVID-19 crisis, there’s more that can be done to help as many people as possible and to do that as quickly as possible. 

For this, Utkarsh tells YourStory, everyone will need to come together.

“Through your platform (YourStory), we would love to tell people that we are looking for more collaboration, more funding, more volunteer support, more tech capital. So if they’d like to reach out, we’re available at our Twitter handles and LinkedIn profiles, and we’d be happy to channelise the right kind of resources, give them the right direction, and connect them with the right people as to how we can all work together.”

Watch our full video for more about IntroBot's solution:

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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