Wearable tech devices could soon deliver Covid track and trace alerts

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Wearable devices such as wristbands and smartwatches could soon be used as part of Bluetooth-based track and trace systems designed to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

Exposure Notification Systems (ENS) work by alerting users if they have been in close proximity to someone who is later diagnosed with Covid-19. This is achieved by sharing anonymised device IDs over a short-range Bluetooth connection.

The relative ubiquity and capability of smartphones has made them an ideal foundation for the widespread adoption of ENS systems. However, there are some demographics where smartphone ownership remains low, such as the elderly or primary school children.

Bluetooth wearables

The creation of a standard to support wireless devices would allow these groups to participate in track-and-trace programmes.

For example, a school-aged child could be given a Bluetooth-enabled wristband that collects anonymised IDs and periodically sends them to a parent’s smartphone that would also receive a notification in the event of an incident.

“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 Exposure Notification Systems.” said said Elisa Resconi, a professor at the Technical University of Munich leading research on the spread of COVID-19.

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

A working group to develop the Wearables Exposure Notification Specification (WENS) was established in August 2020 and has attracted the involvement of more than 150 stakeholders. The Bluetooth SIG is now inviting public feedback on the specification, the first time this has been done.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.