Designing apps to fight COVID-19

Posted by watchmen
September 7, 2020
Posted in OPINION

With all that has been happening here in our country, it easy to overlook good news. Amid the pandemic, it would be far from our minds to think that some of our fellow Filipinos would stand out to be among the most innovative thinkers, not only in Asia, but potentially across the globe. 

The recent Space Apps COVID-19 challenge is the most recent example of the Filipino as potential technology and science leaders. A Filipino team won the contest, while two other Filipino teams were global finalists.

The challenge was a special competition held by the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), under their annual Space Apps challenge, which usually takes place around October. This competition started in 2012, and is known as a “hackathon,” where teams from all over the world are allowed access to NASA’s open data, so they can come up with ways to address real-life problems. Computer specialists, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, and others of their kind can form teams to participate.

For the COVID-19 challenge, data analysts from CirroLytix, a local social impact data analytics startup, created the Global Impact Detection from Emitted Light, Onset of COVID-19, and Nitrogen Dioxide portal or GIDEON. This system uses news feeds, Google data, and coronavirus case data to study the impact of intervention measures such as quarantines. It also uses measurements of night-time lights and nitrogen dioxide to extrapolate economic activity through night-time activity and pollution levels. This can then monitor how country populations and economies are reacting and adapting to COVID-19 solutions.

The other two Filipino finalist teams had brilliant ideas as well. The Snail Space app, developed by the Celestial Snails team from De La Salle University, creates “safe spaces” for its users by providing mental care and comfort to counteract the isolation brought about by the pandemic. It does this through hotline functions, suggested activities, and information that can help users.

The Sentinellium app, on the other hand, is one our contact tracing czar, Baguio mayor Benjamin Magalong, may appreciate. It is a public health app that uses chat and SMS functions to compare user data with socio-economic information and other data similar to what GIDEON does. Because Sentinellium can be used by users to input personal health information, it can potentially be used for contact tracing and forming epidemiological models.

In fact, this isn’t the first time that our fellow Filipinos made waves in NASA’s Space Apps challenge. Last year, Project AEDES, which uses satellite and climate data to pinpoint possible areas for dengue outbreaks. In 2018, ISDApp won the Galactic Impact Award, for its function of communicating vital weather information and data to fishermen using analog phones to basically feed them updates on when the right time to catch fish would be.

These innovations are exactly what we need now to serve our country. This is what our Tatak Pinoy initiative seeks to promote: the Philippines’ particular brand of ingenuity and innovation. These apps show us that our country has another path open for it to pursue economic development and prosperity — through technological innovation, particularly on how to use, analyze, and present information. With Philippine-made tools like these apps, we can reshape our own future, and ensure that the new normal, is in fact better for everyone.



Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years — nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws.  He is currently serving his second term in the Senate. Email: / Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara./WDJ

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