THE INSTITUTE Igor Matias and Paulo Silva, IEEE student members at the Universidade da Beira Interior in Covilhã, Portugal, created an interactive map and a mobile app version to help residents find stores, pharmacies, and healthcare facilities that are open in the city as well as the entire Beira Interior region during the COVID-19 pandemic. Covid-19 o que está aberto?—Portuguese for “Covid-19 what’s open?”—informs users about such information as hours of operation and whether the store has a delivery service. The two students are currently working on making the map available for the entire country.
Matias is pursuing a master’s degree in computer science and engineering and Silva is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the same discipline.
The Institute asked them about their project.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Portugal is currently in a state of emergency and people are only allowed to travel if they are essential employees or need to go health clinics, grocery stores, or pharmacies. But many people do not know which ones are open. Our platform provides people with an interactive map that shows information about these local businesses.
What technologies are you using?
We are using Google Maps’ APIs combined with fast website design tools to give us the ability to quickly build the platform. We will be launching a free mobile app version of the platform, which will be available on iOS and Android devices.
Explain how your project works.
Although people can simply browse a map of their neighborhood on Google and look for open establishments, our platform provides tools to make the search easier. Our tools include searching for a business within a specific radius and by a specific address. The filters allow users to also search for which business offer delivery.
Currently the map covers an area of around 400,000 people. The data in the platform is either collected by us or we are contacted by businesses or residents through a form we created. There are more than 200 establishments listed on the map.
In the first week after launch, the platform received more than 15,000 hits and that number continues to increase thanks to people sharing it on social media. We are now seeking financial support so the platform can be available for all of Portugal.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
When we first began building this map, we were using an almost 100 percent simple text-based form to collect new data from the users who visited the platform. However, it was taking too long to manually insert and publish the new establishments on the map, so we built a fully automated form in Google. Google Forms provides us with pre-processed data, and we just approve the data so it appears on the map.
We also faced another big issue: server capacity. Initially we were hosting the platform on a simple and affordable server. However, as the number of users increased, the server crashed several times. This led us to invest in a more powerful and expensive server. We are facing financial difficulties while we aim to make this tool available nationwide.
What is the potential impact of the technology?
The platform has tremendous potential to help the local economy through the COVID-19 pandemic. By informing residents of which establishments are open, it brings in business for stores, pharmacies, and other service providers.
Knowing about delivery services also allows people to stay at home so they can protect themselves and others from the virus.
How close are you to the final product?
The final product is available for residents of the Beira Interior region in Portugal. We are working to make it available nationally.
How many people are involved, and how many IEEE members are involved?
Right now, the team consists of just the two of us. We are both IEEE student members and I, Igor, was the 2019 chair of the IEEE Universidade da Beira Interior Student Branch, and Paulo was its 2019 vice chair.
How can other IEEE members get involved?
IEEE members can apply for a position on the maintenance team, share the platform on social media, or inquire about replications of the platform for use in their country. Anyone who is interested in a position or has a question about the platform can fill out this form.