International Crowdsourcing Experts Team Up to Help Save Lives

San Diego, Calif., Jan. 31, 2012 -- Two international scientists who took home the top prize in a worldwide networking competition hope to once again harness the power of social media to improve emergency health preparedness — and in turn pay 'the crowd' their potential prize winnings.

Gian Mario Maggio
UCSD Research Scientist Manuel Cebrian is part of a team that will use crowd-sourcing to geo-locate automated external defibrillators in the Philadelphia area in an effort to help improve emergency health preparedness and save lives. 

University of California, San Diego Research Scientist Manuel Cebrian, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Sandy Pentland won the $40,000 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Network Challenge prize in 2009 and will now take on the University of Pennsylvania’s MyHeartMap Challenge, which launched today. The public competition is an effort to create an effective location-based database of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in the Philadelphia area. Contestants download a phone app that allows them to submit geotagged pictures of AEDS they see around Philadelphia. 

Cebrian and Pentland are joined by Masdar Institute of Science and Technology computer scientist Iyad Rahwan and University of Southampton computational game theorists Victor Naroditskiy and Nick Jennings. Cebrian is affiliated with the UCSD division of the California Institute of Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). 

It’s estimated that some 300,000 people die in the U.S. every year from sudden out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, some of which could be prevented through the timely use of a defibrillator. The inability to locate AEDs in such emergency situations greatly reduces their intended life-saving impact. 

“Our team will use crowdsourcing to encourage people to report the location of AEDs, to verify other reports, and to recruit new participants,” explained Prof. Rahwan, who recently co-authored a paper with the DARPA Network Challenge winners on their use of social networks to mobilize people to contribute to their team’s efforts. (The paper was recently published in Science magazine.)

A grand prize of $10,000 will be awarded once an individual or team enters at least 500 unique, eligible AEDs, or the contest participants collectively enter at least 750 unique AEDs (in which case the team or individual who finds the most AEDs will receive the prize). The competition also has flagged a number of “Golden AEDs,” which earn a $50 bonus for the first team or individual who photographs and submits them to the contest.

Rahwan and his team, dubbed Heartcrowd, have pledged that if they win the prize money, they will award those who contribute to their effort $5 for reporting an unlisted AED and $2 for verifying its location. In addition, they will award a participant $2 each time a team member registers through his or her referral, and $1 each time a team member who registered through his or her referral verifies a report. 

"Crowdsourcing provides an unprecedented ability to accomplish information-gathering tasks that require the involvement of a large number of people,” noted Rahwan, “often at geographically spread out locations.” 

Rahwan added that his team’s success will rely on its ability to identify trustworthy information reports – something that Cebrian and his team struggled with in their effort to solve the recent DARPA Shredder Challenge.  Their approach was ultimately derailed when a hacker, posing as someone who wanted to help with the challenge, tampered with data on the team’s website. 

“False reports are bound to appear either due to honest mistakes or sabotage attempts,” Rahwan added.  “This information verification problem is a difficult task, which – just like the information gathering task – requires the involvement of a large number of people. Our team develops methods for solving this problem through crowdsourcing: We crowdsource not just the gathering, but also the verification of information.”

Explaining the strategy behind the team’s approach to the contest, Dr. Naroditskiy noted that “when your goal is to find as many AEDs within as large an area as possible, it would seem obvious that the best way to do that is to involve as many people in the search as possible. That’s what our team is trying to achieve through our expertise in social networking, mobilization and technology.”

 The team members will use the challenge to test some of their theoretical research on social network mobilization and incentivization as well as verification, which adds a new layer of complexity not yet seen in crowdsourcing challenges.

Added Dr. Cebrian: “To most people, social networks are just a way to talk to their friends or share videos. But to scientists like us, they represent a unique way to form large teams of people to work in a coordinated way to achieve difficult tasks. 

“If we can harness that power of social networks," he continued, "then we can enlist countless numbers of helpful volunteers to canvass Philadelphia and seek out and verify the AEDs that are currently not geo-tagged or on any map. This information can later prove to be lifesaving for someone going through sudden cardiac arrest.”

The MyHeartMap Challenge begins today and continues through March 13, 2012. 

To become a member of the HeartCrowd team, register at http://scailab.media.mit.edu/heartcrowd/

For more information about the Challenge, visit http://www.med.upenn.edu/myheartmap/#.TygpPaVSSEZ

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Media Contacts

 Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, tfox@ucsd.edu