Foto: Unsplash Daria Nepriakhina

Students behind COVID-19 app win hackathon

Friday 01 May 20
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by Christa Visholt Jørgensen

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Lars Kai Hansen
Professor, head of section
DTU Compute
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DTU students won the HackTheCrisis Denmark hackathon with an app that uses Bluetooth technology to register cases of infection. They have experienced how far you can come in the development of an idea.

Three students in their fourth semester on the study programme Artificial Intelligence and Data—Katrine Bay, Anders Bredgaard Thuesen, and Gabriella Angela Morote Kierulff—could not understand that an app had not been developed for anonymous tracing of the spread of Coronavirus in the population.

Therefore, they took matters into their own hands when Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen declared a lockdown of Danish society on 11 March. In 24 hours, they developed an app prototype that could trace infection using Bluetooth technology.

“We developed the app to help Danes contain the spread of infection because the biggest problem is that people can be infected with Coronavirus without showing any symptoms. We thought that if you can inform people that they are at risk of being infected, they have a better basis for going into self-isolation,” says Katrine Bay, who originally came up with the idea.

The app was a perfect match for the HackTheCrisis Denmark hackathon—which was held in early April—and here Anders and Gabriella continued working with it together with the young programmer Anker Bach Ryhl.

The assignment was to find non-medical solutions to the Coronavirus crisis. And the group won first place in the ‘Saving lives’ category with their app, which they named CovidGuard. At the competition, they sat in separate locations and communicated online with each other and their attached mentors.

Anonymity is important
One of the reasons why they clinched first place was that CovidGuard is a good fit for Danish society, because the ‘Bluetooth contact tracing’ technology ensures anonymity and does not disclose more data than necessary. In other countries, similar apps have been developed that instead use location to trace people.

“One of the smart features of Bluetooth is that you don’t get access to the exact location of people, you can only see the distance between devices. We don’t need to know where people are, but only who they’ve been in contact with. Therefore, we thought that Bluetooth was a good solution,” says Anders Bredgaard Thuesen.

The app register the persons with whom you have been in contact for a distance of up to two metres and for a certain number of minutes. If one of these persons is registered as being infected, all those that the virus carrier has been in the vicinity of will receive a warning that they are at risk of infection, so that they can go into self-isolation.

If they had the collected data available, the students would also have liked to have applied machine learning, which would have allowed them to see infection patterns and thus make a more precise prediction of the distance that is decisive to whether a person becomes infected.

Appetite for more among the students
By participating in the international hackathon with 378 other participants, the students from Artificial Intelligence and Data realized how far you can get with an idea.

“It’s great to have had a taste of this for the next time you may come up with a good idea. I would then feel more confident in this being something that we could develop ourselves. You don’t need to be with a giant IT company—four students can actually do it,” says Anders Bredgaard Thuesen.

Although they did most of the work on their own, he stresses that it was also a great help to use as sounding boards their attached mentors, who assisted them online during the 48 hours of the competition.

First step towards new Danish app

However, the students faced challenges with CovidGuard because only authorities are allowed to introduce apps that track devices via Bluetooth. Therefore, the students have been in a dialogue with the Danish Health Authority, which is working on a similar app. And they are available if the Danish Health Authority needs help.

“From the outset, we’ve been hoping that this kind of infection tracing app would be launched as quickly as possible so that registration could begin. We’re just happy if we’ve been able to contribute to making it happen soon,” says Gabriella Angela Morote Kierulff.

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