The Eurecat technology centre has won one of the challenge categories in the European #EUvsVirus hackathon with a solution for forecasting epidemic outbreaks in real time by analysing sewerage using microbiology and Artificial Intelligence tools. It has been developed in conjunction with researchers from the KWR Water Research Institute, Exeter University, Thessaly University and the National Technical University of Athens.

The innovation is called Sewers4COVID and has been designed as part of the #EUvsVirus hackathon led by the European Innovation Council which connected civil society, researchers, organisations and investors online in order to develop innovative solutions for coronavirus-related challenges. The event was run from 24-27 April and featured over 27,000 participants from more than 50 countries in 2,100 teams.

In the project Eurecat researchers have used Artificial Intelligence coupled with machine learning to determine the correlation between the presence of the virus in sewerage and in the areas where the epidemic outbreak occurs.

“The solution makes it possible to track indicators and compare them with each other on a regular basis to build models which simulate the impact on their relationship”, says Xavier Domingo, Director of Eurecat’s Smart Management Systems Unit. “This gives you an estimate of the number of people infected so that you can learn what the trend is, get ahead of the curve and reduce the need to conduct mass testing every day”.

“If you have information which allows you to anticipate what is going to happen, then you can better manage resources used in the pandemic and it would open the door to deciding where greater preventive efforts should be made”, adds Gabriel Anzaldi, Eurecat’s Director of Scientific and Technological Development.

“Deploying and implementing a solution like the one suggested by Sewers4COVID would allow us to foresee the onset and evolution of the pandemic through predictive management”, Anzaldi points out. “Hence risks for the most vulnerable groups could be reduced and priority services streamlined in a coordinated way at all action levels”.

Specifically, the researchers in Eurecat’s Smart Management Systems Unit who helped to design Sewers4COVID worked on generating and conceptualising the idea and on gathering, handling and preparing open source data ​​ concerning population and health resources data. The Eurecat team, which included researchers Lluís Echeverria and Marc Ribalta from the technology centre’s Smart Management Systems Unit, also built the prototype for impact simulation and recommendation.

Anzaldi says that this solution “can be adapted and rolled out in any geographical area and region”.