COVID contact tracing for the workplace without smartphones, via LoRaWAN

Kerlink and Microshare developed contact tracing to follow the spread of COVID-19 in company and campus settings. It relies on Bluetooth-enabled wristbands or badges. (Kerlink)

To help track the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases, two asset tracking companies have pivoted to make a workplace contact tracing technology that doesn’t rely on smartphones.

Instead, workers are issued Bluetooth-ready badges, key rings or wristbands with a unique user ID. The approach could be preferable for secure workplaces that don’t allow smartphones or where workers don’t own a smartphone or refuse to use one. 

Some workers worried about privacy also don’t want to turn on geo-tracking in their smartphones, as is required with some tracing technology. **

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RELATED: Only half of smartphone users would run a COVID-19 contact tracing app

The two companies, Microshare and Kerlink have developed Microshare’s Universal Contact Tracing technology that uses Kerlink’s new Wanesy Wave scanners and industrial-grade indoor and outdoor  Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) gateways and network management tools.

The companies said the novel approach can be deployed in weeks without a complex network. 

 Once workers wearing the devices come in close proximity, their special Bluetooth devices scan and record each other’s unique ID with encrypted code.  Such encounters are then regularly uploaded to a secure database.  The database helps authorized officials identify the wearer of a device to trace previous movements of people who later test positive for COVID-19 or develop symptoms.

“Tracking employees inside a building [isn’t] dissimilar to tracking hospital beds,” said Microshare CEO Ron Rock, who explained that the company had built the tracing technology atop its Asset Zoning technology used for tracking hospital beds and wheelchairs.

Kerlink, founded in 2004, is based in France and has built a reputation for providing Internet of Things technologies for businesses.  Microshare, based in Philadelphia, was originally named Point.io in 2013 and renamed in 2017.

Kerlink published a case study about its LoRaWAN contract tracing technology based on its work with Microshare that includes a network diagram. It describes how two employees wearing Bluetooth beacons in proximity with each other will activate an event that is transmitted to a wave scanner. Data from a LoRaWAN gateway gets transmitted through a Microshare smart and encrypted network via an independent 4G/3G backhaul. Kerlink’s management center helps store the data either on a Microshare platform or a company’s secured client and then the company matches the device User ID with an employee’s name, based on the company’s HR privacy policies.

RELATED: COVID-19 privacy: The debate over contact tracing and healthcare data

**An original version of this story said some people don't want to turn on geo-tracking in their smartphones as required with tracing technology under development by Apple and Google.  However,  the companies have reportedly said recently that they will ban use of location tracking in contact tracing apps.  

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