For many people worldwide, severe limitations on daily life because of COVID-19 have become the new normal.
The economic, social and personal impact of all the wide-reaching restrictions imposed by governments all over the world is immeasurable. Economies are struggling, people are losing their jobs and they feel insecure as they are terrified to go out or to get in touch with anyone. Even numerous of restrictive measures and general lockdowns in a country level cannot handle the spread effectively.
This comes as a direct result of the inability of the governments to instantly, accurately and efficiently trace all those who have come into close contact with an infected person. Identify and analyse each and every new case is typically a very labour intensive endeavour, demanding a great amount of effort of the personnel of the Health Authorities. As a result, the real number of the COVID-19 cases and the estimation of the spread is impossible to be accurately calculated.
For these reasons, we need more effective ways in suppressing the pandemic in order to return to our daily lives now and safely. It is also extremely important to provide a cost effective exit strategy to governments in their target to avoid or manage a second wave of COVID-19.
What it does
COVer-U, a mobile Contact Tracing Application, offers decentralised and free tracking of the contacts of a person that is diagnosed with COVID-19 with respect to people’s privacy.
Tracking will be a combined result of 2 pools of data resources:
Fused location techniques such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), GPS, Wi-Fi, Cell Networks. These Location techniques will follow a decentralised way of storing data so as to overcome any privacy risk. The data will be stored in the user's mobile only and will be correlated locally with the data of any affected user with the proper level of Anonymity.
With the combination of 2 pools of data resources the solution aims to cover even bigger percentage of tracking the infection, where other similar solutions fail.
By information sharing, it will cover cases even when someone is not carrying a mobile phone at the time of infection!
Using Groups & Contacts
Close Proximity Group: There will be a mandatory Group, named “Close Proximity Contacts”. Each user will be able to add people in this group under the following principle:
User is advised to add only the persons that is expected to come into close proximity on a frequent basis (at least once every 2 weeks)
• The purpose of using “Close Proximity Contacts” group is to ensure that the application will cover more cases of a user running into an infected person within each user’s social network in everyday life, thus increasing the coverage of the application.
• These contacts can be Family, Friends, Co-workers, Neighbours, Local Shop Owners and Employees, in general every day persons that the user comes into close contact.
• User will be notified with status changes in their avatar: “COVID-19“, “Stay Home” Icons.
• Optionally and if approved by the user, the “National Health Care System” will be notified.
Checking Health Status
Each user will have a "Health Status" Button. The user can optionally press this button, i.e. to check every day the status. Then, the application:
• Will do the match on each user's mobile between the user's location data and the location data of the positive tested people.
• Send notifications to the proper target users based on some matching criteria for the last 2 weeks with a level of probability of infection. These people should be informed that they were possibly infected by another person so as to take precautionary measures. Data will be encrypted during the whole procedure and will not include any personal data (i.e. no name, mail, phone etc).
Where we Differentiate
By using both GPS and Bluetooth technologies, we expect to have bigger coverage of tracking than any other solution now can offer (as they use only one of these technologies)
By using Contact Information Sharing we expect even greater coverage. These cases cannot be covered by any Location Technology (e.g. Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi, Cell Network)
We cover cases when a person touches a contaminated surface. This infection could have been caused even between 2 persons that never met. These cases cannot be covered by using only Bluetooth Technology.
We cover cases where the infection caused by the virus that was transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. This infection could have been caused even between 2 persons that never met. These cases cannot be covered by using only Bluetooth Technology.
We can trace incidents when someone is not carrying a mobile phone at the time of infection. We believe that such incidents cover a great percentage of the overall number.
Some examples can give some insight:
CASE 1: John goes for a while to a neighbour market, grocery, pharmacy without his phone. The owner of the shop is infected.
CASE 2: Mary works in a company and drops by to the 2nd floor to meet a teammate or attends a scheduled meeting in a room with some co-workers from a different department and leaves her phone at her desk. One of these co-workers is already infected.
CASE 3: Ronald plays football with another team and leaves his phone in the locker room. A football player from the other team is infected.
How We Built it
At this point the target is the Android mobile phones. It is built with Android Studio, by using Java and Google Firebase. Currently, there is a team of 6 highly skilled and talented people working to prepare an MVP.
Challenges We ran into
• Finetune the algorithm for choosing the proper location technology to store data during daily activity of the user based on various metrics (i.e. anonymity, accuracy, low power consumption, simplicity).
• To explore options for the interworking of the application with the "National Health Care System" of Greece, any other local Authority or any other country that will support this solution.
Accomplishments that We are Proud of
The idea won in the category "Ready to fast-track" at the Greek Hackathon (CrowdHackathon) on the weekend of 4-5 of April 2020, supported by the Attica Regional Government (Athens) and various other public sector entities.
• Personal interview to Insider.gr a well-known Greek web newspaper, posted at the link below:
• MVP ready
• Collaborating with a team of 6 people, fully motivated with the idea in a very short timeframe.
• Starting discussions with various mentors of Crowd Hackathon of Greece for the next steps.
• Ongoing support and help from the organizers of Crowd Hackathon for the realization of the idea.
End User Engagement
• The more the user keeps the application updated with contacts the more protected the user will be. The moto here is:
Participate in order to protect and be protected
• Will boost proper precautionary measures to all people that were in close contact with persons that have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so as to reduce the spread of infection.
• Will help everyone with an easy and intuitive way to be informed about the health status of user's target contacts.
• It will be available for free and can be easily accessible. No need to go anywhere to buy it, “Stay Home” and just download it from the relevant App Store and Google Play Store.
• It will save money for governments and local authorities.
• A great tool in the hands of any National Health Care System.
• It can be easily adapted and used by people and countries all over the world in their fight against the spread of the virus.
• Yet, there is no “instant and automated tracking system” of COVID-19 promoted by EU Authorities for all the Europeans.
• It can cover cases that standard location tracing approaches cannot compute.
For example, there are thousands of cases and periods of time within a day where one person does not carry the mobile phone but eventually will come into close contact with other (possibly infected) people, i.e. neighbourhoods, local shops and local businesses.
• It will be extremely useful not only during extreme shut down measures imposed by the governments, but also post - lockdowns. As it will be proved as the best and cost effective measure of early detection and ultimately avoid or manage a second wave of COVID-19.
• It can be re-used in other contagious diseases and epidemics.
What's next for COVer-U
• Next steps is to present MVP at the next cycle of Crowd Hackathon of Greece.
• Participate to country level Hackathon "Digital Innovation Initiatives Against COVID-19" supported from Greek Government. The process is ongoing and at this phase the submission is approved.
• Starting discussions with local authorities on how this application can be used and adapted accordingly.
• Continue the implementation and add more features into the application. Support of iOS mobile phones will be our next target. Optional collection of statistics anonymously for plotting the spread of COVID-19. Integration also to other social applications is a part that we will also explore.