COVID-19: A wearable warns when you’re less than six feet

Kinexon Wristband wearable tech
As people try to figure out how to safely get back to some semblance of normal, interest in this UWB-based wearable is coming from everywhere including government and sports franchises to retail operations. (Credit: Kinexon)

As people slowly begin venturing out and returning to work, a technology developed by Kinexon that relies on ultra-wideband (UWB) radio frequencies could prove instrumental in providing reliable, accurate data on distancing and contact events.

Ultra-wideband, or ​ “UWB,” is a radio-based communication technology for short-range use for the fast and stable transmission of data at low power density. In applications that do not require a license, UWB uses short pulses over a spectrum of frequencies between 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz.

Launched in 2012, Kinexon provides its UWB sensor technology to more than 100 customers in applications as diverse as locating people and assets in production facilities to preventing forklift accidents in warehouses. In 2017, the Philadelphia 76ers became the first NBA team to equip its players with Kinexon technology. Now, 23 of the league’s 30 franchises use it to gather motion and training load metrics.

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The attributes of UWB sensing technology—proven, reliable, accurate, small and lightweight—make it an interesting option for helping people to maintain safe distances and trace chains of COVID-19 infection. The fact that it is available now in a plug-and-play format with no network infrastructure required also means no delays in bringing the technology to market. The only change Kinexon made was to modify the device to measure the distance between people for physical distancing.

“If you look at the different technologies for location tracking, ultra-wideband is one of the most reliable and accurate, and it operates in real time.” said Mehdi Bentanfous, managing director at Kinexon. “The fact that we are using high bandwidth and not interfering with other frequencies makes the technology extremely reliable.”

Bentanfous noted that the technology can be deployed almost anywhere, “Even in a stadium with 100,000 people you will still have no interference. It also produces very accurate location data down to approximately 4 inches—compared to Wi-Fi at one to two ft. And since no infrastructure is required the implementation is fast and scalable,” he said. ” There’s no limit to the number of devices you could deploy--you could have 50,000 or 100,000 thousand sensors in one area”

The solution, called Kinexon SafeZone, consists of the company’s SafeTag 5-gram UWB sensor and can be worn either as a wristband or clipped onto clothing. An internal battery has a 10-hour runtime between charges. The device is programmable to emit an audible warning when either a pre-set physical distance has been breached or contact time has exceeded a specific time.  According to Kinexon, the cost ranges between 80 cents and $1 per employee per day.


An extended version of the technology is available that allows for the storage of data related to critical event in order to manage exposure. Bentanfous explained that because each sensor is registered in the system with a unique ID—and therefore not assigned to a specific individual--no personal data is recorded and data protection guidelines are observed.

“There may be situations where a customer would like to know who has been in contact with a person and may be at risk,” said Bentanfous. “How it works is at the sensor charging station, data can be uploaded and maintained locally for a specific period of time and accessed in the case of an infection. This would only be done with limited access and the data is always anonymized.”

As people try to figure out how to safely get back to some semblance of normal, interest in the technology has been high. Bentanfous says that the company is currently talking to a large number of potential customers—from government bodies and sports franchises to event companies and retail operations. “The interest is coming from all over,” he said.

RELATED: COVID-19: Wearable goes from tracking activity to tracking a virus

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