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Students take third in competition with app designed to help first responders

Second-year students Daniel Ciao, Max Wu, Bryan Chiang and Lucas Xia won $25,000 for creating a mobile application designed to assist emergency responders. (Niveda Tennety/Assistant Photo editor)

By Elyssa Smith

Oct. 21, 2019 8:59 a.m.

Four UCLA students won $25,000 for creating a mobile application designed to assist emergency responders during natural disasters.

The application, Rove, was the second runner-up for the Call for Code 2019 Global Challenge, an annual international competition that calls on developers to build applications for humanitarian causes. This year, the theme was natural disaster preparedness and response.

The app was constructed by second-year computer science students Bryan Chiang and Daniel Ciao and computer science engineering students Lucas Xia and Max Wu. Wu is also the Daily Bruin’s External Sites director. Rove won the four $25,000 as well as continued open-source project support to allow other developers to help out with the solution.

Rove allows emergency personnel to respond to those in need more quickly and efficiently by analyzing their information, using satellite imagery technology and providing accessible routes for the responders, Ciao said.

The app was named after the acronym of the three-step approach it is built on: respond, organize and visualize, Xia said.

The team wanted to cut down on emergency responders’ response times and give responders an exact location to help those in need, Chiang said.

“For these authorities, it’s extremely hard to filter through all this information and all these random messages and calls, to answer, ‘Where do I go?’ and ‘How do I get through?’” Chiang said.

Rove first uses crowdsourcing to gain information on health status and medical needs from those affected by natural disasters, Chiang said.

The application then maps out their locations to first responders, prioritizing them based on medical need and how close they are.

“We put (victims) on a web map and cluster different victims that are close to each other,” Chiang said. “This shows us key groups of people that are at risk.”

At that point, Rove analyzes satellite imagery to locate damaged roads and buildings, and then generates optimal routes for emergency responders to affected people.

Chiang said that recent earthquakes close to UCLA were one of the reasons the team joined the competition.

“When the June earthquakes in Southern California, especially 6.4 magnitude one, hit, it was really the catalyst for us to enter this competition,” Chiang said.

In its aftermath, the team reflected on how the earthquakes were dealt with, Chiang said. He remembered reading an article that said response would be on a scale of weeks.

“That is absolutely intolerable in the case of a natural disaster,” Chiang said. “You need people out there within hours and within days, not weeks.”

California wildfires also resonated with the team and led it to construct Rove.

To work on the app, the team met on weekends over the summer. Everyone had a different background but worked toward the same outcome, Xia said.

“From the original plan, we built pretty much everything we outlined,” Xia said. “The goal that we had was to help responders, and that’s exactly what we did.”

They drew inspiration from past competition entries and tried to close the gaps, Ciao added.

“We took a look at the existing solutions and the previous solutions submitted into the challenge last year,” Ciao said. “What we found is that none of them seemed to combine the two components of crowdsourcing and navigation all in one.”

The team had done computer programming competitions before, but this contest was different than most hackathons due to its humanitarian aim, Xia said.

Ciao said the team wants to work with humanitarian organizations to improve its design to make it more applicable to real-world situations.

“We’re trying to see which humanitarian organizations we can beta-test this with,” Ciao said. “As natural disasters become more frequent due to climate change, this is a problem that is only going to get worse.”

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