UC’s CITRIS launches COVID-19 response with 25 awards for innovative technologies

May 18, 2020

CITRIS Seed award

Initial round includes potential “game-changing” innovation for diagnostics, therapeutics, and mitigation

Congratulations to ITS Berkeley affiliates and Civil and Environmental Engineering professors Scott Moura and Raja Sengupta and City and Regional Planning professor Daniel Chatman, Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Joan Walker, and City and Regional Planning professor and ITS Berkeley Associate Director Daniel Rodriguez for earning UC CITRIS COVID-19 Awards.

The first 25 teams awarded seed funding for technology projects designed to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis were announced recently. Within days of the application deadline, a $1.6 million matching challenge from an anonymous donor expanded potential funding exponentially, increasing the number of projects that can be awarded. 

Rapid-cycle ventilators; next-gen face masks; new algorithms for contact tracing and advance prediction; a genome browser to integrate molecular-level genetic information to accelerate research; and a portable, point-of-care rapid-testing device the size of a credit card are some of the potential “game-changers” among the 97 proposals received. Interdisciplinary projects covered many aspects of the pandemic’s impact, from testing, treatment, and transmission to genomics and virology, policy and privacy.

ITS-related projects include:

A Data Scientific Approach to Coronavirus Surveillance: Application to Re-Opening UC Campuses

Researchers: Scott Moura, Raja Sengupta | UC Berkeley

The University of California, the largest university system in the world by student enrollment, consists of 285,000 students on 10 campuses — a population which would rank #72 among U.S. cities. To re-open campus operations during the SARS-CoV2 pandemic, we require a scientific and data-driven surveillance system for early warnings of localized outbreaks. This CITRIS COVID-19 seed project leverages data scientific methods to model, survey, and mitigate potential outbreaks within large organizations. In this seed project, we focus on student populations and course networks. In particular, we model contact networks over course schedules, and utilize graph theory, optimization, and Bayesian methods to determine which courses should move online. The methods developed, however, will scale to other large organizations, and thus provide a toolkit for societal leaders to re-open operations.

Social distancing and sheltering in place: Using a nationwide smartphone panel with location data to understand population heterogeneity and inform intervention methods

Researchers: Daniel Chatman, Joan Walker, Daniel Rodriguez | UC Berkeley

Recent studies of household responses to Covid-19 have failed to collect data on the underlying structural and economic factors that condition people’s ability to comply with social-distancing and shelter-in-place rules. Such data are needed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and to safely begin to open the economy. We use a unique sample of more than 100,000 U.S. mobile phone users, taking pre- and post-COVID movement data from GPS traces to measure changes in household activity patterns and correlate those with baseline demographics such as household income, household size, and race/ethnicity. We will then, over a minimum three-month period, repeatedly survey a subsample of individuals in ten metropolitan areas to measure economic well-being, mental health, personality, political orientation, and barriers to sheltering along with documenting changes in activity patterns from GPS traces. This novel research will enable future work on experimental interventions delivered via smartphones to improve compliance.

See the full list of 25 projects here.

Projects were funded at an average of $50,000 each, and selected with an eye towards cost, scalability, and impact. All are centered in one of four CITRIS-affiliated UC campuses: UC Berkeley, UC Davis (including UC Davis Health), UC Merced, and UC Santa Cruz. Projects are designed to show research results within three to six months. 

“This amazing response from the research community and our generous donor will greatly accelerate the innovation, ingenuity, and public service of the University of California,” said CITRIS Director Costas Spanos, also a UC Berkeley faculty member in electrical engineering and computer science. “We are immensely grateful and welcome additional partners to further expand our efforts to address the pandemic.”

“We are all united in the vision that innovation can steer us not back to where we were, but to a stronger, more resilient health care system going forward,” said CITRIS Health Faculty Director Tom Nesbitt, senior advisor to UC Davis Health executive leadership and co-director of the Healthy Aging in a Digital World Initiative. Nesbitt is also a member of the University of California COVID-19 Task Force.

In addition to offering seed funding, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute has also undertaken other efforts to address the pandemic through its research thrusts and labs, from mobilizing CITRIS Health’s international networks to get PPE into the hands of U.S. clinicians to fabricating ventilator adaptors in the CITRIS Invention Lab to convert consumer-grade sleep apnea devices for clinical use. Throughout its 20-year history, CITRIS has developed technology solutions to respond to disasters — including earthquakes, wildfires, and floods — building resilience in California and beyond.

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and the Banatao Institute drive interdisciplinary innovation for social good with faculty, researchers, and students from four University of California campuses – Berkeley, Davis, Merced, and Santa Cruz – along with public and private partners. For more information, see CITRIS-UC.org.