The COVID-19 outbreak has raised unexpected challenges that our society has to face. The capacity of healthcare systems around the globe has reached its limit, given the high number of infected patients. This fact has increased dramatically the demand for protection equipment, such as surgical masks, ventilators, or face shields. So far, however, many governments have not been able to provide them in the large quantities they are required.
The situation in the province of Barcelona has not been different, showing one of the highest number of cases in Spain. Facing this scenario, a group of volunteers organized themselves in the so-called “makers” community. This community has been offering their time and resources for free to manufacture protection equipment, such as homologated face shields or handles for opening doors, with their home 3D printers. They also collect all these items from particular houses and deliver them to the hospitals after the necessary disinfection and quality control processes.
A large community of volunteers in Spain
The makers community has more than 13,000 volunteers throughout Spain, who have joined efforts to face this challenging crisis. They manufacture these devices under the coordination of the health authorities, following predefined security, safety, and quality protocols and standards.
Once these protection equipment is manufactured at individual homes, a daily challenge is to pick up those supplies from these geographically distributed locations, and then to deliver them to hospitals and health centers across different cities in Catalonia. From the logistics perspective, the main objective is the minimization of transportation times, so the maximum items can be collected in a reasonable driving time. Notice that this goal also helps to limit the time of exposition to the virus of drivers and reduces their risk of suffering an accident due to a fatigue effect.
ICSO algorithms for efficient transportation
For dealing with this logistics challenge, the makers community requested the help of the Internet Computing & Systems Optimization (ICSO) research group, which has been developing intelligent algorithms for efficient transportation and mobility scenarios during the last years. Hence, since March 23rd, different ICSO members voluntarily joined this project with the goal of providing, every night, the best possible routing plans for drivers, so they can use them on the next morning.
The members of the group had to adapt, in just a few days, some of the ICSO algorithms to the different scenarios and characteristics of a rich pickup and delivery routing problem, which is changing almost every day. For instance, some days the problem can be modeled as a vehicle routing problem, some other days as a team orienteering problem, sometimes it can be a single-depot or a multi-depot problem, or it might even contain mandatory and optional nodes or more than one destination.
The ICSO team and its partners
The ICSO cooperation is coordinated by Miguel Saiz (ICSO PhD student and member of the makers community) and Angel A. Juan (ICSO Lead Researcher and Full Professor of the UOC Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunication Department). They rely on the support of researchers such as Leandro do Carmo and Rafael Tordecilla (PhD students in charge of modeling, adjusting, and running the algorithms), Alessandro Fusco (Erasmus+ visitor from the University of Bologna, responsible of generating time and distance matrices among nodes), Dr. Javier Panadero, Dr. Pedro Copado and Dr. Chris Bayliss (in charge of supporting the code development for adapting the ICSO algorithms), as well as Dr. Laura Calvet and visiting MSc students Mariem Gandouz and John Fredy (who provided support in the analysis of data and standardization of the routing files).
The project also has been supported by members of the WiNe research group and the UOC Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications Department, through the collaboration with Professor Josep Jorba. Apart from this academic alliance, this initiative receives the support of external enterprises, both in Spain and Italy. Hence, in Spain we have received support from Dr. David Lopez-Lopez from Fhios, while the Italian company ACT Operations Research is also providing support by means of its representative, Paolo Marone, since they are experts in optimal decision making and carry out similar initiatives in Italy.
According to Miguel Saiz, the work done has been satisfactory from the practical perspective, being validated by the volunteers: “The feedback from the drivers has been very positive. All of them were able to complete their assigned routes in about 6 hours as expected, thus fulfilling all the pickups”. Moreover, as Mr. Saiz states: “The route proposals are being very helpful, and the time estimates are accurate. The best proof of helpfulness is that the transportation company is proactively and directly requesting our help every day for the routing plans”.
Finally, the work carried out by the ICSO research group demonstrates the applicability of intelligent algorithms to interdisciplinary and real-world scenarios. Usually, these cases are characterized by their high complexity, and ICSO algorithms are flexible enough to solve problems with features that change on a daily basis.
Article by Leandro do C. Martins and Rafael Tordecilla, PhD students at the ICSO research group at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3).
The Internet Computing & Systems Optimization (ICSO) group focuses on the use of Intelligent Algorithms & Data Science (including optimization, simulation, analytics, and machine learning methods) to support complex decision making in different application fields that range from transportation and logistics, to smart cities, production, real-time positioning, and computational finance.