A Machine Vision AI Powered Wearable Device For Maintaining Social Distancing and Contact Tracing

Atom Covid-19 Datathon

Doctoral Student Anil Thota


First Place Winners – $1,000 Scholarship
Anil Thota and Maojun Zhao
Presentation Topic: COVID-Defender – Machine Vision AI Powered Wearable Device for Maintaining Social Distancing and Contact Tracing
Track C: Monitoring Risk Profiles

An AI powered wearable device, a plan to supply personal protection equipment and a solution to optimize class scheduling took the top prizes in the FIU ATOM COVID-19 Datathon, held from July 24 to August 2, 2020.

The competition, hosted by the FIU Business ATOM Think Tank to develop technology-driven solutions for repopulating the campus, attracted 51 students from throughout FIU. A total of 15 interdisciplinary teams, all connected virtually, were tasked with developing a solution to enhance the “new normal” for students, faculty and staff.

Karlene Cousins


Karlene Cousins

“We wanted to harness the best minds from FIU to see what ideas and innovations they could come up with in the course of a week,” said Karlene Cousins, chair of the information systems and business analytics department and founder of the ATOM Think Tank.

The Datathon also served to energize students, many of whom met their teammates remotely for the first time, and competed from throughout the world, including Columbia, India, Brazil and Mexico.

Mentors, who included FIU Business faculty members and members of the business community, helped teams develop their solutions faster by providing baseline data sets and suggesting technological tools. Judges included representatives of corporate sponsors Assurant, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and wiSource, along with other members of the business community and FIU faculty.

“The project took on a life of its own, thanks to the ATOM Advisory Board members, who went to their corporate coffers and funded the scholarship money for our students in these challenging times,” Cousins said.

The winning formula: an AI-powered wearable device.

First-place winner Anil Thota worked with Maojun Zhao to present COVID-Defender – Machine Vision AI Powered Wearable Device for Maintaining Social Distancing and Contact Tracing.

The device not only alerts those who violate social distancing rules but also saves information about who is nearby in case someone — including the wearer — later tests positive.

It also senses and records red flags like elevated temperature and coughing. The team recommended that FIU implement pool testing, and using monitoring metrics from COVID-Defender would allow the school to narrow down who needs to test and isolate.

Thota, who said he first imagined the COVID-Defender in April while in a grocery store, decided to sign up for the Datathon in hopes of pitching it and bringing it to market. The biomedical engineering PhD student and FIU Adaptive Neural System lab research scientist worked on the project out of his garage, ordering some tools but also making good use of his son’s Lego blocks.

“People are working hard to get FIU repopulated safely, and this device could help us do that,” Thota said. “Without the Datathon and the mentors who helped me and who motivated me, I would not have been able to pitch this idea.”

Maria Paula Diaz, a rising FIU Business senior majoring in finance and business analytics, finished third with teammates Cristhofer Lugo and Namitha Patil. The team worked on “Optimizing Class Scheduling,” creating an app that begins with a questionnaire and generates an optimized class schedule to minimize student time on campus. While its primary function is student-facing, the app also collects data for a dashboard to help administrators.

Diaz dialed in from Bogota, while Lugo battled power and internet outages from Isaias-ravaged Turks and Caicos.

“At this point, we are all used to working remotely,” Diaz said. “But it was weird because we didn’t have time to really get to know each other. As we worked, we started seeing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we communicated a lot. But I sure would’ve loved to meet them in person!”

Although, the week was stressful, Diaz is glad she persevered, and she most appreciates the real-world experience, one she believes prepares her for life after graduation.

“At the end of the day, it really showed how life works,” she said. “You get thrown into teams, you have deadlines, you don’t know the people you are working with – and you just have to make it happen.”