Solutions usually detect and store contact events between Bluetooth devices that has poor interoperability when applied to smartphones. Adoption rates are also low due to privacy concerns and resultant systems depend on subsequent manual contact tracing.
Instead, a new architecture is used that comprises standard beacons carried by users and detectors placed in strategic locations where infection clusters are most likely to originate. [This is similar to the architecture used for IoT sensing using gateways.]
The system helps control disease spread at lower adoption rates. It also provides significantly higher sensitivity and specificity than existing app-based systems.
VMware Pivotal Labs recently released Herald open source contact tracing for iOS and Android. Pivotal Labs was previously awarded three contracts worth £4.8m to develop a contact tracing app for the United Kingdom only for it to be abandoned for a new app based on the Google/Apple contact tracing mechanism.
Herald can’t be used for contact tracing unless you are a government agency because 3rd parties can’t publish such apps on the Apple app store. However, Pivotal Lab’s deep work in this area provides many insights into the use of Bluetooth on smartphones. The library itself also has other uses other than contact tracing:
File sharing between Android and iOS devices, reliably
Local ‘same location’ peer to peer applications, such as instant messaging or gaming apps
Using beacons in high-risk areas, an employee exposure app could accurate record exact exposure to hazardous environments
Also using beacons, know where to deep clean if an employee does fall ill at your large campus
Check in app – Walk around and be let in to secure areas automatically
Rescue app – e.g. for skiing/snowboarding avalanche rescue – find the hidden/non visible person. Could be fire in a large building, or rescue on a tube train
The documentation provides some useful information on technology approaches and OS specific issues.
Using scanning for 1-3 seconds with a gap of a few seconds between scanning uses 6-11% battery over 8 hours
Android phones’ speed when reading characteristics is significantly slower than write and acknowledge. Using write instead of read reduces the mean window times from above 8 seconds (minutes for some phones) to 0.5 – 4 seconds, depending on the handset. Use write characteristics wherever possible, and cache data to remove any redundant reads.
Apple iOS has a bug with background Bluetooth advertising where applications on two backgrounded iOS devices are not notified about each other. Two backgrounded iPhones cannot detect one other.
The background timer on Android sometimes gets stuck and might not wake for many minutes.
The way smartphones interpret Bluetooth signals to determine RSSI varies across Bluetooth chipsets. Some such as the iPhone 7 use a log approach while others use an inverse distance-squared scale. This affects accuracy if you subsequently use a common formula to derive distance from RSSI.
The problem with smartphones is that their transmit and receive capabilities vary widely. The received signal strength (RSSI) is inconsistent across types of smartphone and you can’t determine distance reliably. Apple and Google have mitigated this problem by attempting to create a database of calibration values (csv).
The calibration data is useful for Bluetooth developers creating solutions across devices. However, it’s of no use for 3rd party contact tracing as only Government agencies can use the Exposure Notification API and Apple is banning Covid related apps.
Gartner has a recent update to their research of hype cycles that takes into account disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.
Five emerging trends have been identified:
Social Distancing Technologies
Social distancing technologies, related to the COVID-19 pandemic, are taking the fast track through the Hype Cycle and have high impact. Technologies rarely enter the Hype Cycle at the point where social distancing technologies has entered it
Wearable devices provide more reliable performance than smartphone apps because smartphones’ transmit and receive capabilities vary considerably across types of device. Using defined, known wristbands or lanyard devices eliminate the variances.
The BBC had a piece last night on the use of social distancing beacons at Florence Cathedral in Italy.
The beacons are worn by visitors and vibrate and flash when people get too close to one another. The reporter, Mark Lowen, said that it was the first use of the devices which might be true of that device model but not of social distancing devices in general.
Theatre and performing arts are currently going through a crisis as theatres remain closed but are still experiencing ongoing costs with no income. Performers are juggling new jobs to make ends meet. In the UK alone there’s a projected £74bn drop in revenue for the creative industries and the loss of 400,000 jobs. There’s a growing realisation that the Covid pandemic is going to be with us for a long time. Even when there’s a vaccine, it will take a long time to manufacture, only provide for gradual vaccination and probably require seasonal re-vaccination much like flu.
With this in mind, once theatres are allowed to re-open, they will have to adapt to the new normal. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s pilot performances are leading the way with improvements in hygiene, social distancing, temperature testing, mandatory face masks and special anti-viral sprays.
The Grand Theatre in Blackpool has a new article on the Future of Theatre In A Digital World. It describes new innovations that will improve the customer journey as well as provide for more automated contact-less engagement required for coping with the Covid crisis.
The aim is to integrate all systems to improve the customer experience, raise more online reviews and gain customer feedback. This starts with smart booking of theatre tickets through smartphones, watches and home speakers. Tickets reside on your smartphone with associated useful information such as casting biographies, announcements, behind the scenes photos/videos, reviews, cast introductions, offers and vouchers. This will allow for faster returns and seating updates. eVouchers allow contactless use of entry gates, concession areas, car parking passes, public transport tickets and pre-paid taxis.
Staff Locating – While our BeaconRTLS™ was previously mainly used in factories and warehouses, it is now being used more to determine the location of staff and occupancy of buildings. What might have seemed to be an invasion of privacy is now seen as something desirable to help ensure the safety of workers and audit compliance to industry-specific guidelines.
Social Distancing – Stand alone social distancing devices and tracking systems are helping companies get back to work and stay open.
Lone Working – There has been an increase in the use of beacons providing touch-free ‘check-in’ for workers and for SOS.
Cafes and Restaurants – Beacons are increasingly being used to identify tables for use in app-based ordering of food.
As offices and sites re-open and people go back to work, it’s necessary to introduce social distancing measures in the workplace. We are hearing of factories being shut down after site-specific infection. Poor social distancing measures ultimately jeopardises the continuity of work in your organisation.
No matter what measures you put in place there will be some workers who flout the guidelines and others who are so engrossed in work that they forget about social distancing.
Social distance wristbands and lanyard wearable devices remind workers to maintain social distancing. Complete solutions allow close contact events to be taken off the distance wristband each day to audit compliance and if necessary, perform contact tracing.
With restaurants and pubs here in the UK scrambling to reopen this weekend, they need to find ways to provide self-service and minimise contact with staff. It’s interesting to see what was considered a ‘future restaurant’ in 2014 makes much more sense today:
The concept restaurant at Eggcellent in Tokyo used iBeacons for the location aspects together with smartglasses, augmented reality and gesture interfaces. An Engadget article covered the restaurant in more detail.
The UK NHS has just released the Android and iOS source code for the UK NHS Covid-19 contact tracking app. This is the code used before the recent switch to the Google/Apple mechanism.
The iOS readme explains how it works:
Our unique identifier is also known as our service characteristic. In the Bluetooth spec, devices can broadcast the availability of services. Each service can have multiple characteristics. We use a characteristic to uniquely identify our service and distinguish from all other sorts of Bluetooth devices. For every device we find with a matching characteristic, we record an identifier for the device we saw, the timestamp, and the RSSI of the Bluetooth signal, which will allow a team later on to determine who was in close proximity to individuals infected with the novel coronavirus