Providing Solutions to Frontliners: Malaysians Place First and Third in Online Coronavirus Hackathon

KUALA LUMPUR, 4th May 2020- In March 2020, a tech hiring platform created under Grooves, hosted an online hackathon to help find solutions using technology to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. This competition saw participation from teams of data scientists and software developers from around the world. The top three teams, with a Malaysian team in first and third place, won prizes worth up to USD 4000 (around RM 17,000).


“This hackathon symbolises just how much we need each other in a time of crisis. COVID-19 is impacting our lives and our communities in ways that we never thought possible but even in a crisis, the silver lining is that we are working together to find a solution. The team is proud to have hosted this hackathon and together with all participants, we hope that the data collected will prove useful in aiding the Ministry of Health in its fight against this pandemic,” said Mr.Yukihiro Ikemi, Chief Executive Office of Grooves.


The two-week hackathon gathered 493 participants (88% were software developers and data scientists), 17 domain experts in virology, bioinformatics, AI and big data. Participants came from 32 different countries, making up 412 teams and contributed 91 submissions. The hackathon had tremendous support from Microsoft, Malaysia’s Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC), Sunway iLabs, Collaborative Research in Engineering, Science and Technology (CREST) and Runcloud. The findings, analysis and outcomes of the hackathon will be shared by with the Ministry of Health (MoH) to strengthen our fight against COVID-19, via avenues facilitated by MDEC.


The first winner was a one-man team called Co-Make. As the pandemic spreads, frontliners are at risk of being infected with COVID-19 as there is a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE). As a result, community 3D manufacturers have been volunteering their 3D printing services to make some of the parts required to fabricate PPE. Co-Make created a platform which allows frontliners to request for PPE equipment such as face shields from this manufacturing community. 3D manufacturers are also able to raise donations from the public to purchase materials required to supply the safety equipment to the frontliners. Co-Make, also known as Louis Ong, even created a way to use augmented reality to personalize the experience.


The first runner up was team Eureka, with members from Sri Lanka, Australia and Indonesia. They developed a mobile app to keep users up to date with relevant statistics in addition to tracking their location. By tracking user location, they were able to automate the process of contact tracing, which is a method of identifying people who have been in close proximity to infected individuals. While this has been done manually until now, it has proven to be costly and inefficient for the rapidly spreading virus. Users are also able to view all confirmed coronavirus cases on a map, get access to latest statistics and news updates regarding COVID-19, and stand a chance to be rewarded for adhering to government quarantine regulations.


The third winner was team “TaoFuFa”, a group of artificial intelligence students from University Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM), who challenged the topic on drug discovery. The team used AI methods (Deep Learning and Genetic Algorithm) to allow a computer to generate drugs compositions that it thinks are suitable. They fed 45,000 samples of drug molecules then simulated them against the coronavirus. The results were fed into the computer to allow it to know what was suitable and fit. This could be revolutionary in the medicine world, as it enables automation towards drug finding. The time and personnel required for drug finding can be reduced significantly and also reduces the researchers’ exposure to the virus, therefore it reduces risks while saving the world’s precious talents.


The hackathon encouraged participants to team up, curate and share solutions aimed at effectively diagnosing and treating the coronavirus. They were able to make valuable contributions towards developing a better understanding of factors that impact the spread of COVID-19.


Governments and healthcare systems are working endlessly towards finding solutions to the disease, to protect their people and save the economy. However, the realization is that software developers and data scientists can contribute tools and solutions to help prevent, track or predict the virus in order to save lives.


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