Meet the Mumbai boy from Silicon Valley who wants to help India fight coronavirus
Mumbai boy Apurva Kumar, the Founder and CEO of Silicon Valley-based tech startup LOTaDATA, is keen to join India’s fight against coronavirus. The Stanford postgraduate NRI tells YourStory that he has offered the services of his startup and has had preliminary discussions with both the Centre and states.
“We recently reached out to government leaders and decision makers at the national and state level. State leaders and chief ministers could use our daily movement data patterns to make informed decisions about where and when to initiate thermal surveys, distribute medical suppliers, allocate hospital beds, and deploy law enforcement.
“In sharing our ‘Data for Humanity’ people-movement dashboards with the public and government authorities, we are providing critical data inputs to flatten the COVID-19 growth curve,” Apurva says.
LOTaDATA is a government technology or govtech company headquartered in San Francisco, California, with offices in Brazil, Singapore, and Thailand. It plans to open an India office soon. The startup provides “people intelligence” for safer cities and smarter businesses.
It has partnered with national and regional governments in Italy, Spain, the US (California, New York, Texas), Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.
The startup says “people intelligence” includes people’s presence, activity, and movement. Presence stands for the number of people in a given area or neighbourhood, activity includes places, brands, or businesses people visit often, and movement focuses on where people come from and where they go.
Apurva says these are fundamental questions that need to be answered to enable core use cases for public health and safety, economic development, urban planning, commercial real estate, retail footfall analytics, mobility and transportation.
“We have helped government agencies with people-movement analysis and insights for urban planning and smart city projects. Most recently, we have helped government leaders and public health officials to understand the impact of people-movement for COVID-19 virus propagation research,” he says.
The startup’s cloud-based platform CityDash.ai can also measure micro-movement trends between neighbourhoods within a city or within a metro area.
“As an example, public health and law enforcement authorities can easily scan for anonymised and aggregated presence and movement of people in areas like Meena Bazar in Delhi, and track the dispersion of that cohort through neighbourhoods within Delhi and the National Capital Region. This level of analysis can help municipalities to anticipate neighbourhoods where they might see the next spike in COVID-19 case counts, and prepare for it.”
In early February 2020, the startup was engaged in smart-city urban planning use cases for electric vehicles and solar lighting in Italy in partnership with ENEL, one of the largest energy-utility companies in the European Union.
COVID-19 cases had just started to grow in the north of Italy, around Milan and Venice. “We realised immediately that our people-movement data insights in CityDash.ai could be super helpful to government agencies, first responders, researchers, public health workers, and epidemiologists. And so we launched the ‘Data for Humanity’ initiative in partnership with ENEL to measure and analyse people-movement across Italy, and expanded it to help countries across the world.”
LOTaDATA is currently computing anonymised people-movement patterns in 12 countries, including India.
“CityDash.ai is a simple and easy-to-use geospatial intelligence dashboard for cities, metro areas, and population centres. It is used by municipalities, government agencies, energy-utility companies, transit agencies, architecture firms, infrastructure companies, epidemiologists, and academic researchers around the world to unearth people intelligence for building safer cities and smarter businesses.”
The Data for Humanity dashboard is being offered for free, keeping in view the company’s goal to increase awareness about the direct connection between people movement and COVID-19 spread patterns.
“Government authorities will benefit from free data insights in the current COVID situation. It is our hope that in a post-COVID world, the same authorities will use our paid services and subscribe to CityDash.ai.”
LOTaDATA assures that it does not sell raw mobile data and does not share the actual data collected from the mobile ecosystem. The company says it applies Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to make inferences and publishes data insights through its cloud-based platform.
How data is gathered
The Silicon Valley startup collects anonymised mobile signals using GeoSDK, which is an embeddable lightweight energy-efficient free software component for mobile app developers to collect geospatial analytics with full notice and consent from mobile users.
Just like Google provides free in-app analytics through Firebase, LOTaDATA provides free geospatial analytics to its mobile app partners so that they can understand how their mobile users are engaging with their mobile apps in the real world.
“Our data has an average accuracy of 12 metres, which is considered high resolution enough to make meaningful inferences about people behaviours like transit mode (train vs bus vs car vs on foot) and footfall visits (cafes, shops, malls, downtown areas, commercial zones, industrial zones, parks and open spaces),” Apurva says.
Consumer privacy and data protection are “front and centre” in every business decision and product design choice made at LOTaDATA, Apurva assures.
“As a company focused on geospatial intelligence, we only collect anonymised mobile signals represented as latitude, longitude, and timestamp. We do not collect personal data like names, email addresses, phone numbers, IMEI, MSISDN, gender, ethnicity, income, or other attributes that would violate the regional privacy laws,” he says.
In the European Union, the company is compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), in California, it is compliant with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) regulation, and across Southeast Asia, it complies with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA) laws.
“Our data insights are aggregated. As an example, we might know there were 3,860 people near the train station yesterday, and they moved from the station to nine other neighbourhoods within the city and to two neighbourhoods in adjacent cities. The movement insights are shared in such an aggregated and anonymised manner.”
The coverage in India
According to the company, India is one of its top countries in terms of data availability and data volume. “CityDash.ai features deep insights about people presence and people movement for the top 53 cities and towns in India. In the next few weeks, we will increase our coverage to the top 100 cities and towns across the country,” Apurva says.
The company claims its data insights represent more than 65 percent of the resident population in major metro areas. “In smaller towns, our coverage ranges from 35 to 45 percent of the resident population. Our coverage is statistically very significant and representative of the patterns and behaviours in the real world. In many ways, we are building digital replicas or digital twins for the cities across India,” Apurva says.
Why not Facebook, Google?
One question that arises is why can’t governments and authorities get similar intelligence from Google, Facebook, and others who have location trackers?
“The top advertising companies in the world, namely Facebook, Apple, Netflix, and Google, collectively own most of the consumer data generated from our mobile devices. Google has made a praiseworthy attempt in the past month to share a limited set of high-level insights about community mobility for some countries.
“While Google’s insights might be directionally useful at the national scale, they are not directly actionable for public-health personnel, first responders, law enforcement officials, and regional or local leaders who are looking for daily granular anonymised movement trends to help their cities and local communities. That is where CityDash.ai comes in,” Apurva says.
In the US, some adtech and martech companies such as Unacast and Cuebiq are starting to provide data insights for battling COVID-19.
Apurva aka Apu
Apurva "Apu" Kumar grew up in Mumbai, and topped his higher secondary exams, graduating from Ruparel College in 1992.
He got an engineering degree from University of Mumbai, after which he left to pursue a master’s degree in earth sciences and engineering from the prestigious Stanford University, California.
Prior to LOTaDATA, Apu held foundational roles at technology startups such as BlueStacks, Phoenix (acquired by HP), CNET.com, and mySimon (acquired by CNET).
Apurva founded LOTaDATA in 2015 and has raised $2.2 million in seed funding so far. He says the company does not need additional funding because it is already profitable.
On a lighter note, Apurva points out that Apu, as he’s mostly called, also refers to “Accelerated Processing Unit”.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)