Student team’s environmental surveillance system wins $10,000 innovation grant

Yulin Hswen

May 4, 2017 – A real-time environmental hazard detection and notification software platform that pools data from social media and other data sources to spot brewing environmental crises and alert the public and authorities to take action netted a win in the 10th Annual Harvard College Innovation Challenge. The team, made up of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health doctoral students Yulin Hswen and Jeremiah Liu, and Pooja Chandrashekar, a junior at Harvard College, won a $10,000 McKinley Family grant for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership in a Social Enterprise in the Harvard-wide competition, held April 12, 2017 at the Harvard Faculty Club in Cambridge.

Through multiple rounds of pitching to investors and judges, Hswen and her team’s project, Planetary Health Watch, placed first in their division.

“Our vision is to collect public concerns about the environment and health by crowdsourcing online data, which will allow us to detect environmental hazards sooner and prevent avoidable and unwarranted harm and deaths, making the world a safer and healthier place,” Hswen said. “We hope to generate real-time hazard detection algorithms.”

The team is currently developing their integrated surveillance system and have already collected over 1 million online data points describing public concerns about the environment related to water and air quality. Their website Planetary Health Watch will be launched in Fall 2017, and will offer a platform where individuals can actively report on the quality of the environment in which they live.

The i3 competition is co-hosted annually by the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard based at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and Harvard Ventures. Now in its 10th year, i3 has provided over $650,000 in grants, incubator space, and professional services to students pursuing commercial, social and public startups on campus, online, and internationally.

 Marge Dwyer

photo: Greg Weintraub