Spotlight: Los Angeles Covid Computational Challenge highlights global resolution

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by Julia Pierrepont III

LOS ANGELES, June 17 (Xinhua) -- The City of Los Angeles, in conjunction with RMDS Lab, is sharing the winning apps created for the Los Angeles Covid Computational Challenge (CCC) from this week and has invited the world to make good use of them to help fight the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"This is a global issue," Jeanne Holm, the City of Los Angeles Chief Data Officer, told Xinhua on Tuesday. "This challenge has been a way to bring the best ideas from our global community and to focus on how innovation, data and technology can help us address this global crisis together."

RMDS is known as an international ecosystem service provider that empowers data science professionals and businesses worldwide to achieve successful, data-driven results. The City of Los Angeles, through Holm, approached RMDS to help them create and stage the unique challenge.

"RMDS has a great way of connecting with the community, sharing education, collaborating and and bringing people in, so I thought this very technical challenge would be right up their alley," Holm said of RMDS.

Also sponsored by SafeGraph and Snowflake, data service companies based in California, the CCC actually was either a data science competition or a coalition consisted of partners like the LA County Department of Public Health and others, to bring the power of data science and analytics to bear on better ways to assess, track, predict and contain COVID-19, using Los Angeles, the second largest U.S. city, as a test site.

Over 400 programmers, scientists and students from four continents around the world joined the competition and toiled away for two very intense weeks to create and submit their unique data-driven solutions that could be used to enable Los Angeles to better assess the existing fatal disease threat and provide innovative solutions on how to help more accurately assess the risk of infection and reduce infection vectors.

The winners saw U.S. and Chinese data teams, USC-ANRG and Contemporary Li Shizhen, respectively, taking the first and second prize victory laps, with teams RPI Solvers and DSO also tied for second place. All of the four winning teams were composed of mixed international coalitions from the United States, China, India, Vietnam, Iran and Israel.

Additional prizes, "Best App" and "Rising Star in Data Science" were also awarded. Best App went to the Padron Peppers, the Prayaga family mother-father-and-two-son team that created a user-friendly app which can track multiple personal and location-based data points about the user and Los Angeles neighborhoods to help arrive at a rated risk level for each area.

The "Rising Star in Data Science" honor was awarded to young high schooler, HMDA's Daniel Ji-Heng Kao for his app that created a risk map for the city's elderly population. Two other teams tied for second place: "RPI Resolvers" - a combined team of Chinese and Israeli members from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the two-man DSO international team.

"I liked that we had teams from the U.S., China, and all over the world that worked across a lot of international boundaries to really highlight how data can bring us together globally and help us fight this specific pandemic," Holm said.

She told Xinhua, "People have to live their lives even during COVID-19, so we are trying to help them make decisions about where to go or avoid in LA to keep them as safe as possible while they exercise, get food, work, and go about their business. As economies and cities are slowly open, if people knew that some areas were higher risk, they could make informed decisions about where to go or not go around LA."

The competition provided each team with great mentors from the United States and China that gave each team advice and training and helped build an open data hub with valuable data sets that could contribute to the accuracy of the apps each team developed.

Holm commented that they set the challenge over a two-week period so contestants would have more time to delve deeper into the datasets they were provided with and bring more thought to their approaches than they could during a 24-hour Hackathon.

LA and RMDS's follow-up plan is to deploy the best bits of the winning solutions into one easy-to-use app that will be available to the public free of charge that combines USC-ANRG's data model as well as key elements from other winning apps and integrated with Patron Technology's user-friendly interface.

"Then anyone can use it to assess and reduce their risk in and around LA," RMDS founder and CEO Alex Liu told Xinhua.

"These ideas are going to make LA a safer city and hopefully they will be implemented at the LA County level too," said Eva Pereira, LA's deputy chief data officer.

"Then globally," suggested Holm with a smile. Enditem

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