HomeConnectivityBluetooth-based COVID-19 notification systems to be extended to wearables

Bluetooth-based COVID-19 notification systems to be extended to wearables

A new Bluetooth specification is being developed so wearable devices can participate in existing smartphone-based coronavirus (COVID-19) notification systems, being deployed with Bluetooth technology.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) has said it is working to standardise extension of the Bluetooth-based Exposure Notification System (ENS), deployed to track and trace potential COVID-19 infections to include wearable devices such as wristbands, as well as smart watches and other devices.

But the inclusion of cheap wristband-type devices in ENS deployments us considered crucial to address population groups where smartphone usage remains low, including children in primary school and older adults living in care facilities. An initial draft of the specification is expected to be released for review in the next few months.

Typically deployed by government health agencies, all public ENS deployments so far have used Bluetooth technology, already embedded in smartphones, to notify people when they have been in close contact with someone later diagnosed with COVID-19. Smartphones are considered an ideal foundation for ENS initiatives because they are widely deployed. But smartphones do not cover all segments of the population, note experts.

Elisa Resconi, a physics professor at the Technical University of Munich now leading research on non-pharmaceutical interventions against COVID-19, commented: “There are several population groups critical to managing the spread of diseases like COVID-19 with relatively low smartphone penetration, presenting a coverage challenge for smartphone-based ENSs.”

She added: “We believe including wearable devices in an ENS would be a very effective method for extending its reach to support these important groups.”

Around 130 companies have joined a new ENS working group (ENWG) within the Bluetooth SIG to standardise support for wearable devices, while keeping the same privacy and security protections of smartphone-based ENS provisions. The ENWG is open to all Bluetooth SIG member companies.

Mark Powell, chief executive at the Bluetooth SIG, said: “It is inspiring to see the community’s collaboration in finding and creating innovative ways to leverage Bluetooth technology to address the COVID-19 pandemic. We are grateful for the dedication and commitment of the Bluetooth members and proud of their work on this important effort.”

Among others, New York based startup Estimote is using Bluetooth – as well as LTE and UWB, variously – in location trackers. The company has develop a new Bluetooth-based beacon solution, which combines with various wearable devices (see main image, and below) and includes a panic button and a buzzer, to locate and alert wearers of symptomatic cases, and proximity to them.

(Image: Estimote)
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