RatWatch: Week 10

It’s the final week! What an adventure this summer has been! From working with community members to building tools that have real world impact, it’s been an absolute blast. This last week has been nothing short of busy. We are making final adjustments to the app, website, and statistical model, all while writing up documentation for those who will continue working on the project after this summer. In addition, we had the chance to meet with city officials and present our work to them last Friday. They showed interest in our project, and we plan to continue conversations with them on how we can use our work to help the city.

As we finish these last few days at Georgia Tech, we wanted to say thanks to all of our project advisors (Ellen, Carl, Amanda) and the entirety of the CDS program. Also, a big congratulations to the other teams on the progress they made and their continued support throughout the program. We’ve learned a lot from each other and created friendships that will last a lifetime. In summary, it’s been an invaluable experience to the entire RatWatch team! We got the chance to see what research was really like, and more importantly, how it can have a positive impact on the real world. It’s an experience that will stay with each team member for the rest of their lives. With that, we’d like to say a final thank you and farewell. It’s been a great ride, and we’ll always cherish it for the years to come. RatWatch team signing off…

RatWatch: Week 9

Presentations are this week! The RatWatch team is diligently preparing for the final presentation, getting powerpoint slides ready and finalizing the remainder of the project. We have officially finished the website, with the heat map and model fully integrated. We’ve also simplified the design of the website to make it easier to use. A navigation menu was also added to make it easier to find certain sections of the website. We are excited to show you the final product! Expect an official launch next week!

We’ve also taken the time to rethink our approach to the project using what we learned last week from community members. In addition to simplifying the survey and the website, we also plan to advance our advertising efforts to spread the word about RatWatch even further. We want to make sure we reach out to all communities to make sure they are aware of the project and our efforts to help with rat abatement and capture. It’s been 9 weeks of hard work. Let’s finish strong!

RatWatch: Week 7

We have finished our data collection period! We managed to gather about 76 reports in total, 7 of which are evidence reports, with the rest being sightings. InImage result for rat 4th of july cartoon addition to the reports themselves, we also gathered some really interesting insights on the data collected. This includes observing how users respond, what times they tend to make reports, and how they interact with the overall application. Through this, we’ve been able to make some pretty substantial changes to the app that we hope will improve the user experience, make data collection more efficient, and enhance its overall effectiveness. We are still working very diligently to develop and implement the new features and factors into the app and statistical model. It’s an arduous process, but we are making great progress. We’ll have more to share next week! Until then, happy 4th of July!

RatWatch: Week 6

We are nearing the end of our data collection period and have a total of about 60 reports now. Our plans for this and next week are to analyze the usage of the app and how people are interacting with the questions. An initial look at the database and text message exchanges with users shows that there are some inputs that we were not necessarily expecting, such as free-form descriptions of the rats and typing the name of the option instead of the number associated with it. Once we take a deeper look at the reports we have gathered so far, we will be able to make the necessary improvements to the app. In addition, we are also close to finishing our webpage! We are currently in the process of prototyping some designs, but we are very close to deployment and we cannot wait to show you what we’ve madeImage result for web design

Work on the modeling side is currently based upon improving the model that predicts the baseline probability of seeing rats. The city of Atlanta is divided up into a grid of smaller squares, and for each square the total count of rat sightings over time, intersection areas of different environmental layers, and counts of restaurants is computed. Currently, we are testing different models such as a poisson regression, zero-inflated poisson regression, and generalized boosted regression model to see which provides the most reasonable and accurate predictions.

RatWatch: Week 5

As of Friday last week, the chatbot has been deployed and is now fully functional. 5 days into the collection period, and we already have about 30 reports. However, most of them are on the eastside of Atlanta, not the west. This has prompted us to rethink our marketing strategy on the westside in order to get more reports from the area. We plan on enhancing our advertising efforts for the project on the westside over the next couple of days in order to maximize the number of reports. In the meantime, we are continuing to monitor the reports being made in order to address issues with the software. We are also working very diligently to make the app even more useful to the community by providing visual maps and statistical information about the reports we are gathering. This information will be viewable on our new website in the following weeks, so stay tuned for more informationImage result for rat funny cartoon

In addition, historical rat sighting information, code violations, and other environmental data are being used to generate a model to help identify key areas that may be especially prone to rats. After geocoding this data, we were able to compute the intersection areas between the buffers and other environmental layers, create random dummy samples across the city of Atlanta, and derive a multivariate logistic regression model to assess which features had the most importance. Currently, the model includes land use, restaurants, and bodies of water, with plans to incorporate real estate, census data, and tree cover. According to the current model, high and multi-residential land, as well as restaurants, are associated with higher log odds of a rat sighting. This makes sense, although we have to look further to make sure the two are not confounding variables (denser residential areas may have more restaurants).

RatWatch: Week 4

We are now midway through week four, and time is flying by. This whole REU is centered on civic data, and last week we really got to explore more of the civics side. With the app deployed to the server and ready for use, we are actively trying to get the  word out to communities on the westside of Atlanta this week by distributing flyers in public spaces and making announcements on neighborhood listservs. Last Saturday, we attended the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council meeting to promote RatWatch to the members present. During the meeting, members from different neighborhoods passionately discussed issues surrounding the Proctor Creek watershed. By observing the council leverage and debate the involvements of local government and organizations, we truly felt that we were witnessing civic engagement at its core.

We also got a chance to present our projects at a civic hack night, which is an event held by Code for Atlanta where technologists and civic-minded people come together to tackle problems the city of Atlanta currently faces. We received a lot of positive feedback from the civic hackers, especially in terms of improving the user interface of the app. We were also able to interact with the civic hacking community in Atlanta by networking with a very diverse set of individuals, and sharing our ideas and passions with other civic-driven people. With one day left until data collection, we will have to work very quickly to implement the feedback we received during testing. We are very happy with the progress we’re making and look forward to seeing the results of our work in the form of crowdsourced data over the coming weeks.

RatWatch: Week 3

Week three has been filled with an abundance of work. From reengineering code to gathering and analyzing datasets, our progress is growing steadily. The week started off with success in getting the chatbot to talk to multiple people at the same time (an issue stemming from prior work on the project). Through a simple yet elegant means of data storage, we were able to use cookies to keep track of each individual who messaged the chatbot. In addition, we’ve also included a feature which allows individuals to send images of the rat or the evidence they discovered to the chatbot. Now it’s just a matter of cleaning code and preparing for deployment

Furthermore, our data analysis is making strides as well. We’ve been focused on collecting datasets that potentiallyindicate rat habitat suitability. These include tree cover, housing structures, land use, restaurants, and more. This was not straightforward; much of the data came from different sources, in different formats – for example, the restaurant data was scraped from a website with lists of health inspections and then geocoded to get the latitudes Image result for rat with binocularsand longitudes from the addresses. Yet more datasets are either not available publicly online or are available in one county and not the other. Using these datasets, as well as a list of all reported rat sightings since 2009 on Atlanta’s Citizen Gateway that are then geocoded, we will be analyzing the spatial distribution of rats over time in relation to environmental and geographical features.


RatWatch is a SMS chatbot designed to enable the citizens of Atlanta to easily report rat sightings and evidence within their neighborhoods. Inspired by a similar project conducted at the University of Michigan, it allows people who see a rat, or evidence of a rat, to text a phone number and fill out a survey detailing their experience. Our work this summer will revolve around improving the application and testing it within various neighborhoods, as well as developing a rat habitat suitability model. We will use the crowd-sourced data collected through RatWatch in tandem with other geographical data to analyze the spatial distribution of rat sightings and test our model.

After learning about the project and its origins in English Avenue, we had the opportunity to visit the westside neighborhoods to better understand the context surrounding the rat problem within Atlanta. From damp creek beds to abandoned homes, the environment exuded potential for the flourishing of rats. Over the course of the coming weeks, much of our work will involve interfacing with various communities around Atlanta, particularly the westside, to test RatWatch and gather data. Ultimately, we hope to shed light on the severity of the rat problem in Atlanta and improve the city government’s ability to effectively address the issue.