Award Abstract #2027529

Collaborative:RAPID: Leveraging New Data Sources to Analyze the Risk of COVID-19 in Crowded Locations

See grant description on NSF site

Program Manager:

Seung-Jong Park

Active Dates:

Awarded Amount:



Matthew L Scotch

Awardee Organization:

Arizona State University


Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE)


The goal of this project is to create a software infrastructure that will help scientists investigate the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and analyze future epidemics in crowded locations using real-time public webcam videos and location based services (LBS) data. It is motivated by the observation that COVID-19 clusters often arise at sites involving high densities of people. Current strategies suggest coarse scale interventions to prevent this, such as cancellation of activities, which incur substantial economic and social costs. More detailed fine scaled analysis of the movement and interaction patterns of people at crowded locations can suggest interventions, such as changes to crowd management procedures and the design of built environments, that yield social distance without being as disruptive to human activities and the economy. The field of pedestrian dynamics provides mathematical models that can generate such detailed insight. However, these models need data on human behavior, which varies significantly with context and culture. This project will leverage novel data streams, such as public webcams and location based services, to inform the pedestrian dynamics model. Relevant data, models, and software will be made available to benefit other researchers working in this domain, subject to privacy restrictions. The project team will also perform outreach to decision makers so that the scientific insights yield actionable policies contributing to public health. The net result will be critical scientific insight that can generate a transformative impact on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including a possible second wave, so that it protects public health while minimizing adverse effects from the interventions.We will accomplish the above work through the following methods and innovations. LBS data can identify crowded locations at a scale of tens of meters and help screen for potential risk by analyzing the long range movement of individuals there. Worldwide video streams can yield finer-grained details of social closeness and other behavioral patterns desirable for accurate modeling. On the other hand, the videos may not be available for potentially high risk locations, nor can they directly answer “what-if” questions. Videos from contexts similar to the one being modeled will be used to calibrate pedestrian dynamics model parameters, such as walking speeds. Then the trajectories of individual pedestrians will be simulated in the target locations to estimate social closeness. An infection transmission model will be applied to these trajectories to yield estimates of infection spread. This will result in a novel methodology to include diverse real time data into pedestrian dynamics models so that they can quickly and accurately capture human movement patterns in new and evolving situations. The cyberinfrastructure will automatically discover real-time video streams on the Internet and analyze them to determine the pedestrian density, movements, and social distances. The pedestrian dynamics model will be reformulated from the current force-based definition to one that uses pedestrian density and individual speed, both of which can be measured effectively through video analysis. The revised model will be used to produce scientific insight to inform policies, such as steps to mitigate localized outbreaks of COVID-19 and for the systematic reopening, potential re-closing, and permanent changes to economic and social activities.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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