Coding for COVID-19: Contest Calls on Developers to Help Fight the Pandemic

Woman wearing mask and gloves checking a COVID-19 app on her smartphone.
Photo: iStockphoto

By: Rina Diane Caballar

Now in its third year, IBM’s Call for Code challenge is a global initiative encouraging developers to create solutions for the world’s most pressing issues. Previous competitions called for apps to mitigate the effects of natural disasters and technologies that can assist people after catastrophes. This year’s challenge—a partnership with the United Nations’ Human Rights Office and the David Clark Cause—offers two tracks to tackle climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the COVID-19 pandemic track, the three areas of focus are assisting overwhelmed crisis communication systems, improving remote education, and fostering community cooperation. To help spur ideas, IBM released starter kits that provide an overview of the problem along with a suggested technological solution (such as chatbots, virtual learning environments, and volunteer food collection and delivery services), as well as tutorials, guides, and data sets to aid the development and testing processes.

The urgency of addressing the pandemic has resulted in an accelerated timeline for the COVID-19 track, with participants submitting their applications on 27 April, and three winning proposals announced on 5 May at IBM’s Think Digital event.

Here are the winners:

  • Are You Well?: Developed by an India-based team from Altran, an engineering and R&D services firm, this mobile app aims to alleviate the strain on overloaded medical systems. People enter their symptoms on the app, which is linked to a patient monitoring dashboard that assigns cases a risk level based on thresholds set by health care providers. Doctors and other medical professionals then access this dashboard to prioritize cases and provide medical advice and next steps for patients.

  • CovidImpact: This tool helps reduce the financial impact of the pandemic on small businesses by assessing their financial risk levels. Created by a global team that came together at the University of British Columbia, the platform also offers tips on how entrepreneurs can keep their businesses afloat in the face of a pandemic and gives information on subsidies and programs to support them.

  • SafeQueue: The brainchild of Los Angeles-based developer David Chura, this mobile app allows people to join a virtual queue instead of a long, physical one where those in line might not be adhering to social distancing guidelines. Using GPS location data, the app creates a virtual line of those within 1,000 feet of a location, with organizations controlling the queue digitally and validating entry through a randomly generated QR code. Chura hopes the app will enable safer entry to shopping centers, business establishments, and even polling places.

On 15 May, support for these three winning solutions will begin, with IBM assigning mentors to work with teams to get their solutions deployment-ready. IBM and its partners will also help teams find organizations that can use their applications. The grand prize winner, to be announced in October, will receive US $200,000, while runner-ups will each receive $25,000 or $10,000.

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 6 May 2020.