As the outbreak of COVID-19 continues to affect the lives of everyone, there is the need to find tools that will help us navigate the new normal. The concept of contact tracing with wearable devices is gaining popularity as governments and organizations struggle to manage the pandemic in the aftermath of widespread global lockdowns. A cheaper alternative to smartphones, especially for populations with low smartphone penetration, contact tracing with wearables also offer the possibility of avoiding privacy concerns regarding the data collected by not requiring any information from users except an anonymous identification number. What are some considerations for implementing a wearable-based contact tracing system?
Bluetooth vs. UWB
The wearable contact tracing system consists of a database and end-nodes aka bracelets. The database acts as the hub for all the information gathered by individual bracelets. One consideration when it comes to implementing such a system is the technology used to measure the interactions of users to estimate the risk of transmission and enforce social distancing based on a set distance of 1.5 metres. While UWB offers a high level of accuracy, it is also at least two to three times more expensive than using BLE.
Bluetooth not only has the price advantage, but is much more energy efficient and has similar accuracy rates with the new 5.1 specification. The accuracy of BLE based systems can be further improved with the fingerprinting method, which consists of beacons installed in fixed locations taking measurements every few meters to record the signal strength from each beacon to build a database of signal strengths that can be used to compare measured signals and estimate the location of the transmitter. With its low costs and improved accuracy in location estimation, Bluetooth can be a scalable and reliable technology for larger populations that want to implement a weable based contact tracing system. An increased uptake of the technology will in turn increase the efficiency of the solution.
Data Collection Methods
With Bluetooth based proximity detection, the devices broadcast and receive BLE signals to record any close interactions when two or more devices are within each other’s signal area. The wearable device does radio signal broadcast and at the same time listens to other signals from other devices using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology. Location information is not recorded, only interactions that are closer than the set distance of 1.5 metres. Wearable devices publish the number of logs in the data storage units during their broadcasting. Mobile devices or Gateways query the held log information on the wearable devices while they are scanning, and in the case of registered logs, take the logs and transmit them to the server. After this process, the logs on the wearable device are reset and new interactions are recorded. The wearable devices notify the employees if the social distance is broken while tracking their contact information.
The wearables can transmit data to the database using three different methods: including a LTE chip on the devices to be able to communicate with the server through the cellular infrastructure, using smartphones as a gateway to connect to the database or installing gateways around the area so data can be collected. For closed venues such as factories and offices where entrances are controlled and there is limited space, installing gateways for data collection can increase accuracy and efficiency of the solution.
Repurposing the Solution
While contact tracing is important for COVID-19 and any future health crises, the current pandemic will hopefully be over as soon as possible. In this case, the wearables and the infrastructure should be customizable to provide organizations the opportunity to address other needs and problems they may have using location services utilizing wearables. For businesses across industries, this kind of a solution can help with process optimization and safety management after the pandemic, which makes the investment beneficial in the long run.
Contact us to find out about Boni Global’s wearable-based contact tracing solution Safe Steps.