Sewers4Covid software developed in EU hackathon

A pan-European hackathon focusing on the coronavirus has resulted in the development of an intelligence sewer surveillance prototype tool.

Called Sewers4Covid, the software was developed in only 48 hours and combines machine learning with wastewater monitoring.

Multiple stakeholders across Europe joined forces for the #EUvsVirus hackathon with approximately 16,000 participants and nearly 1600 project submissions.

The Sewers4COVID team included universities in the UK and Greece, together with research centres and institutes in Spain and the Netherlands.

On the project outline, submitted as part of the development page, the group said: “Sewer surveillance for the virus can quickly, cost-efficiently and covering a large proportion of a population provide information on the spread of the contagion and allow easier targeting for the deployment of resources (human and material).”

Combining machine learning and wastewater monitoring
The developed system collects and combines multiple datasets so that they are compatible, or interoperable.

Analytics are then applied to link sewer surveillance results with that data.

The result? A tool that allows the “assessment of the current and future evolution of the pandemic”, according to the Sewers4COVID group.

It is hoped the software solution can be used to not only track the existing crisis but also as an early warning system for the second wave of infections, for example, after lockdowns are lifted.

“For our team, it was gruelling work but at the same time highly satisfying and fun,” said Prof. Dragan Savic, professor of Hydroinformatics at the University of Exeter and CEO of KWR Water Research Institute. “The best results normally came while burning the midnight oil to finish the project!”

He praised the enthusiasm of the group, which called themselves the “Dream Team”.

“This ranged from the detective work to find useful public data sources to link to the wastewater testing data, through to the coding of the software and online platform,” he told Aquatech Online.

“We also developed simple but powerful models to demonstrate our ideas, as well as our own video summarising the project ideas and our ambition.”

The genesis for the software came from an investigation by scientists at the Dutch research centre, KWR Water Research Institute.

Using a novel early warning system principle, Prof. Gertjan Medema and colleagues detected material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort in early March.

This was before any cases had been officially reported in the city.

What’s next for Sewers4COVID?
The Sewers4COVID team involved in the hackathon included:

  • KWR Water Research Institute: Dragan Savic FREng, Lydia Vamvakeridou-Lyroudia, Frederic Been, Gertjan Medema
  • Eurecat – Technology Centre of Catalonia: Gabriel Anzaldi Varas, Xavier Domingo i Albin, Lluis Echeverria, Marc Ribalta Gené
  • University of Thessaly: Chrysi Laspidou, Dimitris Kofinas, Alexandra Ioannou
  • National Technical University of Athens: Maria P. Papadopoulou
  • University of Exeter: Mehdi Khoury, Gareth Lewis, Albert Chen.

Hackathon participants had to submit their entries by April 27, with total prize packages totalling €83,000.

The European Commission will follow up to what are deemed the “best projects coming from the #EUvsVirus hackathon through a new, European Innovation Council (EIC) Covid platform”.

Foundations, investors, health providers (e.g. hospitals) will also be part of the EIC Covid platform to ensure that the best ideas are turned into actual solutions to fight against coronavirus and its consequences, the commission said.

The Sewers4COVID group concluded that further research is needed into the real-time process and linking sewer surveillance data with other databases.

“We will pursue opportunities to continue this work and develop our solution into a full-blown open-source application,” added Savic.