June 24, 2021

An AI Project by Indian Engineers Could Predict COVID-19 Cases and Fight the Pandemic

VinTeam is one of the finalists in the XPRIZE Pandemic Response Challenge, which focuses on the development of data-driven AI systems to predict COVID-19 infection rates, and plan interventions. VinTeam is made up of Mudit Jain, a software engineering lead at Google, and Biplab Deka, PhD from the University of Illinois, UC. The duo have created an AI tool that Jain says can help predict where coronavirus related cases are going to rise, and help authorities take the appropriate precautions to stop the spread of the disease.

According to Jain, one of the challenges that the team faced is that different regions faced different spread and peak patterns. In response, VinTeam created separate AI models for each region. Jain told Gadgets 360 in an email that VinTeam built this solution on a traditional epidemiological technique called SEIR model and extended it with AI to make it a dynamic model instead of the traditional static approach.

To train its AI models, VinTeam used publicly available features such as demographics, health infrastructure and economic indicators. The team also used Google Maps mobility index, which is collected from Android phones worldwide in an anonymised and secure way, and measures population movement changes in public areas such as parks, hospitals, workplaces, groceries, railways stations, airports etc. The team also made use of Google’s COVID-19 symptom search trends data, which is similarly aggregated anonymously and contains popularity of Google search queries related to COVID-19 symptoms. 

The XPRIZE Pandemic Response Challenge was announced in November, and is sponsored by Cognizant. The top 3 finalist countries are: US (20), Canada (6), and China (6). The Challenge received the most team pre-registrations overall from the US (42).

“The finalists in the Pandemic Response Challenge have demonstrated incredible innovation in their efforts to help the world emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Brian Humphries, Chief Executive Officer of Cognizant. “Advancements these teams are making can have far-reaching implications – empowering policy-makers and business leaders globally with data-driven tools, informing countries’ decisions about their re-opening strategies, and proving the value of AI and collaboration in addressing future humanitarian crises.”

VinTeam is one of the groups that has been selected as finalists in the $500,000 (approximately Rs. 3.65 crores) Xprize Pandemic Response Challenge. Jain explained the criteria of the competition, the contest judges selected them based on accuracy of their models, novelty of AI techniques they developed and easy interpretability of their predictions. In addition, this approach can be used for any future pandemic modelling.  

mudit jain left biplab deka right h

VinTeam comprises Mudit Jain, an engineer at Google, and Biplab Deka, PhD from University of Illinois

Jain and Deka both graduated from IIT Kanpur in 2009 and went to USA for their higher studies. In 2020, as both India and USA went under a lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were inspired by news coming in from India of sacrifices made by doctors and health workers to treat COVID patients while risking their own lives. This motivated them to apply their own AI skills and experience and play a part in helping solve this challenge for humanity.


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