ARC: Open-source technology to support the COVID-19 crisis response.

More than ever before with the outbreak of COVID-19, governments, and institutions are globally faced with critical challenges to meet resource needs within extremely short timeframes.

To support this endeavor, the EPFL Blue Brain Project and ETH Zurich, as part of the National COVID-19 Science Task Force, collaborated with Spiez Laboratory on an online platform, Academic Resources for COVID-19 (ARC), to match critical support needed by Switzerland’s diagnostic laboratories with the supplies the Swiss academic sector could share.

Apptitude’s contribution

ETH Zurich had set up and operated the initial ARC platform since the middle of March 2020. At this time, numerous important matches, e.g. for PCR machines and reagents, were established. As the needs of the epidemiological situation evolved, the Blue Brain Project and ETH Zurich collaborated to create a new version of the platform which made the matchmaking process simpler and reduced the number of human interventions required.

Importantly, it made the requests and supplies more immediate, and thus the matches could be exactly tailored to overcome specific, high-priority blockages or shortages on the testing side.

In this new version, Apptitude contributed our know-how in the conception and design of the interface. Furthermore, our particular experience in the development of complex matchmaking systems, which combined with the computational expertise of the Blue Brain team allowed the creation of a powerful and efficient ‘matchmaking’ system to meet the particular needs for testing for COVID-19.

How the digital platform works…

The ARC platform works by matching requests for critical equipment, reagents, and consumable goods required by Swiss diagnostic laboratories involved in combating COVID-19 with supplies available from Swiss academic groups.

The requests are prioritized and marshaled by Spiez Laboratory, which was appointed by the Swiss Federal Government for this task. An expert group of moderators then processes the requests. Once a match is established, the respective groups are contacted to organize the pick-up as quickly as possible.

Therefore, the key objectives of the mission were to :

  • Design, develop and roll out an improved ARC platform that could be operated more efficiently with less manpower required
  • Allow diagnostic laboratories to declare needs with precise identification
  • Allow Swiss academic groups to share supplies responding to needs using a controlled vocabulary
  • Allow Spiez Laboratory to sort out priorities of the requests and approve the most appropriate matches according to the curated situational awareness in Switzerland

An intuitive user experience

The user experience of the ARC platform was designed to be both intuitive from the first login, while remaining effective in everyday situations, even in stressful circumstances. In order to deliver the platform as quickly as possible, the design process took place in iteration loops of a few days each or even a few hours at a sustained work pace.

The design evolved on the basis of an interactive prototype in close collaboration with the respective project stakeholders. End-user representatives were directly involved from the early stages of the design to ensure that a relevant and effective application was designed for their specific needs.

An open-source platform relevant beyond the current pandemic

The ARC platform’s open-source technology allows for rapid deployment to provide assistance in other countries affected by COVID-19. In particular, “to remedy shortages of specialized components, resources, and skills by using those typically found in the academic sector”.

Since the platform is configurable with respect to actual roles and types of demands, its relevance easily extends beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic in order to assist with other types of emergencies such as natural disaster response scenarios.

“The importance of the open source ARC Platform technology is that, it is not limited to its current use in Switzerland or, its use in the on-going COVID-19 crisis. It offers a way to respond to unconventional circumstances, in particular when the normal supply chain cannot be used”

Prof. Felix Schürmann, Director of Computing at EPFL – Blue Brain Project in Frontiers, Science News.

Scientific publication in Frontiers, Public Health

The ARC platform is the subject of a scientific research article published in Frontiers in Public Health that you can explore using the links below:

Scientific article in Frontiers, Digital Public Health
ARC: An Open Web-Platform for Request/Supply Matching for a Prioritized and Controlled COVID-19 Response

Article in Frontiers, Science News blog
COVID-19 crisis – a technology providing unconventional supply relief

Article in EPFL News
“COVID-19 Crisis – A technology providing unconventional supply relief”