Inventor Profile: Suri Labs showcases their innovation at various competitions


Photo courtesy of Ravin Suri.

From left to right: founder and chairman Nancy Conrad, sophomore Rohan Suri, junior Kevin Livingstone, sophomore Varun Iyengar, junior Claire Scoggins and former NASA astronaunt Robert Cabana celebrate the team behind Suri Labs being recognized as Pete Conrad scholars.

Katherine Du, Staff Writer

Suri Labs, a team comprised of sophomores Rohan Suri and Varun Iyengar and juniors Claire Scoggins and Kevin Livingstone developed a working model using the concept of contact tracing to prevent the spread of epidemics. At the time of the Ebola outbreak, the four students felt compelled to actively search for ways to improve the conditions affected by the deadly disease. Their solution was kTrace, a mobile application that allows contagiously sick users to be able to track down the individuals they were recently in contact with so that they can get the necessary preventive care.

The kTrace team has recently presented their project at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). “I think our project has huge potential to make the world more prepared to fight epidemics and infectious diseases,” Suri said. “ISEF gave us the opportunity to discuss and develop our project with some of the world’s smartest professors and researchers.”

Past competitions and recognitions:

  • 1st in Cyber-technology and Security at the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge and Pete Conrad Scholar Winner
  • 3rd in Systems Software at Intel Science and Engineering Fair
  • 3rd from Association of Computing Machinery (International)
  • 1st from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (Regional)
  • Grand Prize from the Regional Science Fair

Q-and-A: On May 12, tjTODAY interviewed Scoggins to learn more about the concept, creativity and success behind kTrace.

Q: How did your team get together and come up with the idea of kTrace?

A: There are two variations of our project, there’s the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge (SOIC) and ISEF edition of our project. They both started on the bus, since Kevin, Varun, Rohan and I all ride the same bus. Rohan and I had talked to each other about computer science for the past year together and wanted to do some type of project when the Ebola outbreak occurred. Casually, Rohan mentioned we should solve the Ebola crisis and soon we came across the idea of contact tracing. Kevin, Varun, and Rohan saw the SOIC competition in Bioengineering club and Rohan decided to bring me in and use our idea for SOIC. We later altered the idea a bit for Intel to demonstrate our research better.

Q: What is the overall idea behind kTrace?

A: Our project is an automated contact tracing system. Contact tracing is a method used to fight the spread of epidemics in which an infected individual’s contacts are identified. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled contact tracing as the best way to fight epidemics, but it has serious limitations. It is resource heavy. In the Ebola outbreak, it took 40 people to identify the contacts of one person and was 40% of the United States’ budget for fighting Ebola. It is inefficient, because it is so slow it can be outpaced by the spread of a disease itself, and it is inaccurate, since there can be lapses in memory and if the individual is dead it is virtually impossible to identify their contacts. So kTrace uses smartphones to map physical contact so contact tracing can be automated. Bluetooth signal strength is used to calculate the distance between two phones, and if the two phones are close together the interaction will be stored as contact. If a user reports that they are sick, all of their contacts that were exposed to the disease for a certain period of time will be notified.

Q: How do you plan on implementing/applying kTrace in the future?

A: We have done an alpha launch at TJ with 40 users and we hope to do a full-scale launch in the near future. We also want to develop our wearable device so they can better work seamlessly with the app and so they may be distributed in epidemic affected areas with low smartphone penetration. We might look to get licensing deals with manufacturers in order to incorporate our system into the operating system of phones to reach a larger audience, but we might also look for sponsorship for advertisement to aid in our launch. Either way, we want to get our app out to the world. Currently, we are also talking to hospitals about incorporating our wearable device and [are looking for] a way for hospital verification of a report that someone is sick.

Q: What have you learned from the process?

A: We have learned a lot about the possibilities of Bluetooth because we weren’t entirely sure if this was even possible before. We also discovered that our solution is extremely viable and that we can launch in the near future. We also used languages neither of us knew before, such as Node.js. We didn’t really know how to do any of this before, we just figured it out as we went. We’ve also learned a lot about the dedication it takes to follow through with a full-fledged research project and application, which is more so with Intel than SOIC.

Q: What will you need to be able to fully develop this application, and what are the problems that you currently face?

A: The wearable we have right now is a proof of concept on an Intel Edison board running Node JS and C++ on a full Linux OS. This is much more than we need; it has a battery life of around eight hours and is bigger than necessary. In reality, we just need simple Bluetooth function preferably with WiFi capabilities, which is cheaper and smaller than the Intel Edison, but it is a little harder to program since the technology is so basic. We will be able to do that and we plan on it but we built the proof of concept so we could demonstrate it at Intel ISEF instead of having a non-working device. The wearable will be about the size of a quarter, and it could be in the form of a watch, but it could also be incorporated in hospital badges or wristbands, or really in anything at all.

Q: How has your experience at ISEF and other competitions been so far and have these experiences inspired you at all?

A: ISEF is amazing. It’s very inspiring to see people from so many different countries coming together with so amazing research. I’m literally meeting people who have cured cancer and discovered new strains of diseases. It’s so inspiring and it makes me want to improve my project even further. SOIC was more of a business type competition and it helped me get an idea of how to market the app effectively. ISEF is science and research based, and I feel like everyone around me is making cutting edge discoveries. It’s an amazing feeling and it makes me want to achieve larger goals in life. We had a panel with 3 Nobel prize winners today, and we got reporter interviews from Johns Hopkins University and IFLScience.