Travel easier with the Covid Travel Tool

Fontys School of ICT
Travelling during the pandemic is sometimes a challenge. It can be a maze to find out what exactly the measures are in different countries. Everywhere its own rules, but also searching on which government website you can find them. Early on in the pandemic, student Martin Frenken and his team thought about whether this could not be made easier. What if there was an application that brought all that Covid-19 travel information together? That would be easy. Fontys Hogeschool ICT students developed the technology of that app for you.

Projects with impact
Various minors are given within the Fontys ICT InnovationLab. Students work on practice-oriented questions from business partners, but there is also room for their own projects, explains Martin. Martin is a student of Software Engineering and developed the Covid-19 Travel app with his fellow students for the minor Data-driven Business Lab: "We started brainstorming with nine students and out of all the ideas, this project came up. That was in January, but we all saw the point of this idea." So that idea is an app that brings all the travel information together. Not just the restrictions, but also what is possible at that moment. An app with a positive impact, in other words.

Data collection and AI solutions
The students then developed the project from idea to proof of concept, Martin explains: "We started by drawing up a list of requirements. After that, a number of design options were proposed. After making our choices, we started programming." This all seems fairly standard, but in order to get the right information into the app, data must also be collected. This is where it gets interesting according to Martin: "The data is automatically retrieved from government websites. Scraped, as it is called. That data is then translated into English and stored in the database. The app then retrieves the information from there." The app runs itself, and thanks to an interval update, the information remains current.

Ease of use through smart categorisation
If you have ever looked at the government's Covid-19 site, you will know what an enormous amount of information there is. Martin and his team were able to solve this problem: "We chose to categorise the restrictions, so the user can find what is relevant. That too is automatic, with a machine-learning model based on natural language processing (NLP). A piece of AI that makes sure information is grouped in the database and appears in the app within themes such as hospitality, home visits and so on. This NLP model learns to recognise where a measure belongs on the basis of cues. Suppose the word 'terrace' appears twice in a measure, then the model recognises this as a hospitality measure." The user interface has also been well thought out to further enhance convenience: "I would say it is slightly more user-friendly than the central government website. The app is called a travel app, but it also makes it easier to find information quickly within the Netherlands."

Proof of concept for information sharing
The team made scrapers for 15 different countries to demonstrate the workability of their initial concept. The idea also translates into other applications, particularly for organisations dealing with international regulations. The self-initiated project has brought the students a lot, says Martin: "I really enjoyed making this and working with students who have a very different background was instructive. That is the benefit of this project, learning from each other. But no one has yet knocked at the door to continue with this idea."

Fontys students work on applied research issues. For example, they find out what opportunities there are in the application of AI. Projects, such as the Covid Travel Tool, are conducted in the Fontys ICT InnovationLab. Would you like to know more about the Fontys ICT InnovationLab? Check out the website here.