An Interview with Dr Andreas Kamilaris, RISE SuPerWorld MRG Leader

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01 June. 2020

An Interview with Dr Andreas Kamilaris, RISE SuPerWorld MRG Leader

Dr Andreas Kamilaris, RISE SuPerWorld MRG Leader, was the initiating power for the creation of COVTracer, a tracking application that allows for timely interventions such as evacuation and disinfection of spaces and for assistance in locating people who have been close to a carrier or  exposed to the COVID 19 virus, so that they too can be appropriately tested or treated. 

As people and businesses are slowly starting to return to normalcy, most employees are returning to the office and are adjusting to the new reality following the health and safety regulations by WHO and the Cyprus Government, it is crucial to preserve all that was accomplished during lockdown.

We asked Dr Kamilaris to share some insight as to what motivated him to expand his knowledge within a specific research area, his experience while working on the creation of COVTracer and much more in the interview below.

2. What ignited your interest in the research area of pervasive computing?

I find it an important area for better monitoring and measuring the physical and artificial environment. By better measuring the world, we can better understand it, thus better perform policy- and decision-making for improving life on this planet, including good and sustainable life conditions for humans, animals, plants and ecosystems. The timing in which i started working in this research area was very good, as I started studying this topic while I was doing my MSc at ETH Zurich. At that time, ETH was a pioneer in the (relevant) research areas of “Internet of Things” and “Web of Things”, which were slowly-slowly rising as radical-new research concepts and domains.

3. What issues are you aiming to tackle and how are you hoping to contribute in improving lives and the environment through your work here at RISE?

I work in multiple levels, together with my colleagues Savvas and Ian, targeting both urban and natural landscapes. The goal is to contribute as much as possible to the improvement of life conditions of every creature on earth, as well as the sustainability of our species and the planet as we know it. Some specific examples of my current projects reflecting these goals are the following:
  1. Monitoring and counting endangered sea lions in Alaska
  2. Identifying and classifying tree species at Japanese forests, understanding the role of invasive species in the Japanese forestry ecosystems
  3. Modelling the impact of animal manure on the physical environment in Catalonia, Spain proposing a technique based on using this manure as crop fertilizer to mitigate the contamination problem.
3. How did the idea of developing CovTracer come about? What were your first thoughts?

Truth is, it all started from a conversation over coffe i was having with Panayiotis Charalambous (RISE MRG leader) and Yiorgos Chrysanthou (RISE Research Director) where we were discussing the situation, prior to  the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe. I proposed this idea, which sounded weird at the time, about monitoring where people go when moving around, using geo-specific risk assessment modelling to give them indications of whether to avoid certain areas because of possibility of infection. This initial idea had many drawbacks, such as issues of privacy (e.g. could spot a person who is infected) or practicalities (e.g. who will declare he/she is sick and why). We then started working in a team, initially together with Alessandro Artusi, Panayiotis Charalambous and Melinos Averkiou (RISE MRG leaders), and realized that other groups around the world had similar ideas and initiatives. This led us to assess those initiatives and reach the decision to collaborate with MIT for the implementation of CovTracer.

Now, the team working on this project has grown, with the addition of Styliani Petroudi and Marios Kyriakou (RISE Project Managers), Vassos Vassiliou and Demetris Antoniades (RISE MRG Leaders) as well as Sofronis (UCY Officer) and Charis Theocharous (RISE Project Coordination / Municipality of Nicosia) to the team. We also have a very talented group of developers who have helped or are still helping with design and development of the tool (Filippos, Petros and Stefanos). To be fair, I must give credits also to Loizos Michael (RISE Pillar Leader), who also proposed this concept of contact tracing during our initial brainstormings.

Summing up, this was one of the first times (since I joined RISE), that I saw such a large team of scientists and admin personnel working together towards a common goal!
4. Why is it important for people to download and use the app?
Infectious disease experts believe that the development of a coronavirus mobile app, which can be deployed fast and wide, can significantly help contain the spread of the coronavirus. Our central philosophy is that citizens should be empowered to contribute to contain the spread of the pandemics in a privacy-preserving way, instead of being forced to do so in ways that could jeopardize their privacy rights. CovTracer fully respects the privacy of its users, offering the following services:
  • Location based tracking - identifying places where infected people have visited for disinfection and other actions (e.g. retirement house , or clinic evacuation etc)
  • Contact based tracing - identifying and informing infected peoples recent person-to-person contacts (to be added to CovTracer soon)
  • Symptom tracking  - to provide insights regarding the disease and potentially provide life saving interventions for patients that may develop severe symptoms. This will help predict future outbreaks of the disease.
To achieve the goals mentioned above, it is crucial that citizens download and use the app. It is a crowdsourcing-based approach which can help tremendously the Dept. of Epidemiology to perform targeted testing and tracing. If people are diagnosed positive to COVID-19, then the data recorded on their phones can be a rich source of info for containing the disease. Citizens may share their data, in this case only if they wish, in a voluntary-basis, while their privacy and anonymity are guaranteed.
We note that CovTracer is a small weapon to the fight against the pandemic and should be part of a complete strategy involving a range of approaches, exploiting technology towards the favour of humans. As Professor Christophe Fraser from Oxford University Big Data Institute, Nuffield Department of Medicine explains: “Coronavirus is unlike previous epidemics and requires multiple inter-dependent containment strategies”. The development of a coranivirus app should be part of a national integrated digital coronavirus control strategy”.