CoVered App Story

KGI Team Develops Innovative App for Virtual Design Challenge to Combat COVID-19

When it comes to obtaining relevant news on COVID-19, many people struggle with information overload. A team of students from Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) has developed a prototype for a smartphone application called CoVered that would resolve this issue by integrating data mapping and COVID-19 news aggregation to find information pertinent to an individual’s situation.

The team designed this prototype as part of a global five-day, student-run virtual design challenge combating COVID-19 hosted by Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation & Design. On the team were KGI Master of Business and Science students Nina Kar, Brandon Gordon, Om Patel, and Master of Science in Applied Life Sciences student Jane Giess—all with plans to attend medical school—along with UC Berkeley Finance and Data Science graduate Clifford Cheng, who brought his valuable expertise in coding and software engineering to the table.

Those who wish to stay informed on COVID-19 are faced with a dilemma: listen to hours of news conferences and still not gain information that applies to their specific city, or search social media for updates, which can be draining and lead to misinformation. The CoVered App was developed in response to this dilemma.

“We tend to hear what’s happening on a grand scope rather than what’s happening locally, and although you can use applications like Next Door or News Break, which are more locally based, you don’t know if it’s necessarily true or if it’s even applicable to you,” Kar, MBS ’20, said. “So we wanted to build an application in which the news is geared towards your local region, your statewide area, and nationally, and then with that information we could also create filters according to any critical condition groups that are applicable.”

For example, an individual who has high blood pressure, diabetes, or is immunocompromised could select filters relevant to their condition to find specific protective measures they can take. Although the app was developed with COVID-19 in mind, it could be applied to any outbreak.

To validate this approach, Kar and Gordon, MBS ’20, created a survey and received 411 responses in under 36 hours which confirmed their expectations.

Because people are not equally fluent in various types of medical information, they included an easy, intermediate, and advanced setting for levels of information. To accomplish this, they used Natural Language Processing machine learning.

“The machine learning algorithm would go through each article, understand it, and bucket it into specific categories whether it’s special interest groups or not, but also be able to detect reading levels,” Cheng said.

The team members agreed that their KGI education helped to prepare them for this challenge, part of which involved a five-minute presentation.

“What I’ve noticed is that usually scientists and a lot of people in the science field have great ideas and unique approaches to finding a solution, but they might not have the proper skills to actually present those ideas to a bigger mass,” said Patel, MBS ’20. “Using those skills that we learned at KGI, we were able to put together a quick presentation that cohesively stated the problem, gave a solution, and covered everything that they wanted us to.”

Giess, MS ’20, was largely responsible for the user interface (UI) design of the app and visual mockup in Powerpoint. This was her first time to participate in a challenge of this nature, and she felt that it was a valuable learning opportunity.

“It was definitely useful to see how your skills would actually translate to the real world,” Giess said.

The purpose of the student-run virtual design challenge was not to award a winner but rather to organize a meeting of the minds in which students could come together to share information and resources. Several hundred teams from places as far spread as India, South America, Europe, and Asia participated.

“It impressed upon me the value of collaboration among different institutions and people from all around the world, especially during times of pandemic,” Gordon, said. “It was cool to see the type of ideas that come from worldwide collaboration.”