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Hackathon Winners Provide Solutions for Fighting COVID-19

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United Nations officials are praising winners of an international "hackathon" for creating technical solutions to fight the disease COVID-19.

The hackathon, called CodeTheCurve, was launched on April 6. More than 160 young people from 26 countries entered the competition.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, provided support for the hackathon. Additional support came from the American technology company IBM and the European software business SAP.

At first, each team received more than 20 hours of training from computer experts, the hackathon's organizers and other technology companies. Then, the actual competition began.

The teams – made up of members under age 25 - had just seven days to develop their COVID-19 solutions. During this period, they received help from technical experts, all of them volunteers.

In the end, the hackathon's organizers declared three winning teams in different areas.

The team honored for its solution in the "social and health issues" category was recognized as the overall CodeTheCurve winner. This team, called X-COV, was based in Spain. It created a data model combining artificial intelligence - AI - programs, machine learning and imaging technology to analyze chest X-rays of COVID-19 patients.

The device-based tool is designed to speed up the process of identifying severe coronavirus cases and to help doctors make faster, more informed decisions.

Joaquin Lopez led the Spanish team. He told an online event announcing the winners that his team was made up of students, radiologists and researchers. The project began when Lopez started talking with doctors and hospital officials. He asked them if there was an immediate need in the medical community to process x-ray data from COVID-19 patients. The answer, he said, was a very strong 'yes.'

Joaquin Lopez led the X-COV team, which was based in Madrid, Spain. (Photo: CodeTheCurve)
Joaquin Lopez led the X-COV team, which was based in Madrid, Spain. (Photo: CodeTheCurve)

"Do you have the data? And they said yes, we have tons of data. If you want to analyze chest x-rays from patients, we have thousands of them in this hospital and there are many other hospitals that will help you on this."

Lopez said one thing his team learned was the importance of doing research. He said they spent a lot of time talking with people who would use the system, and not just working on coding.

Another winning team was VRoam of Toronto, Canada. This team – made up completely of high school students - won in the "Ensuring Continued Learning" category.

A representative of the group, Christy Xie, said the team developed an app that uses virtual reality - VR - to show a virtual world. This software program lets users explore different places around the world while exercising. The system uses AI technology to present well-known places and provide facts about them. Users are required to wear VR eyeglasses, which are connected to a mobile device.

Christy Xie said the idea came about because members of her team were all stuck at home because of public safety measures. Some had to cancel planned trips to other countries. In addition, the students had limited exercise choices.

She said the app provides a solution for all these issues.

"It is an app that combines exercise and learning together, so that people are able to travel the world and they can learn, visit historical sites, and exercise from home."

She added that the experience showed her team how unprepared communities were for the health crisis and how the situation affected the whole education system.

"It really just emphasizes the point that anything is possible. Like, we could be hit by a pandemic, but at the same time we are able to work together as a team."

The third winning team, called COVIDImpact, was led by Ali Serag of Vancouver, Canada. His team developed an assistance solution for small businesses, which has already begun working with some Canadian companies.

Serag explained that the system is designed to "equip founders and business owners with everything they need to immunize their business to COVID-19 and its after-effects."

The system identifies government and private programs that can assist and provide financial support to small businesses during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes collecting real-time news about the coronavirus and providing this news to businesses.

Serag said the tool uses AI and machine learning to predict how small businesses might be affected in future pandemics to permit them to take steps to prepare beforehand.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn reported this story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

hackathon n. an event at which people come together to write or improve computer programs

analyze v. study something carefully

tons n. an extremely large amount

coding – n. a language used to program computers

app n. a program for a smartphone or other device that performs a special function

virtual reality – n. a set of images and sounds produced by a computer to represent a real place or situation

emphasizev. show that something is important by bringing attention to it

immunize v. protect a person or animal against disease

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