How industries can take an IoT-enabled approach to contact tracing

James is editor in chief of TechForge Media, with a passion for how technologies influence business and several Mobile World Congress events under his belt. James has interviewed a variety of leading figures in his career, from former Mafia boss Michael Franzese, to Steve Wozniak, and Jean Michel Jarre. James can be found tweeting at @James_T_Bourne.

In the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, countries around the globe have comparatively few weapons at their disposal. In the absence of a vaccine, mandating social distancing and correct hygiene is one tool, while the other is accurate tracking and tracing positive cases.

While the US has guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the UK at least, the official contact tracing app has been beset by problems.

For businesses looking to maintain their workflows while ensuring their workplaces are safe, there are other options.

Clark Construction Group, a US building and civil construction firm, had been a long-time customer of IoT platform provider Losant around monitoring water resources on construction sites. Given Losant’s primary areas of business are asset tracking and remote monitoring for industrial and manufacturing, as well as smart environments, a conversation between vendor and client resulted in something of a eureka moment.

“[Clark] had been evaluating a number of contact tracing point solutions, whether real-time location-based systems or mobile app-based systems – and they really just did not find any that met their needs,” Adam Daniel, VP enterprise solutions at Losant, tells IoT News. “Their primary concerns were privacy, security, and infrastructure. They didn’t want to have to do a rip and replace in some aspects, or invest a large amount of money on infrastructure.”

Losant does not provide an app, but rather, an application enablement platform (AEP), from which organisations can build products, as well as create and monitor all types of data, and scale to potentially millions of devices. With the architecture defined, all Clark needed to do for contact tracing was add Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) tags.

Enterprises (below) can distribute a tag – or wearable device – which uses BLE to track contact with other physical tags. The tags keep a log of all other tags in real-time, and then when it gets within range of a gateway, it uploads its contact list to the cloud via that gateway.

“The overall architecture is not based off real-time location – we don’t actually translate any kind of tag into an X Y,” explains Daniel. “We focus on the proximity and the detection from tag to tag, so no personally identifiable information is ever stored on a BLE tag.

“We’re not dictating how things are happening, so we allow customisation, we allow integrations with HR systems, enterprise databases, and really form the need to perform the solution to the need of the customers,” he adds.

Different industries have different challenges. In construction for instance, the form factor of the tag is vital, as well as its durability. For retail, comfort may be more important; should the tag be worn as a lanyard, an armband, or even clipped onto a vest? “I think that’s also helped us out,” adds Daniel. “[With] our partner network we’re able to go out and really understand what the customer needs, and then help them or work with them to identify the right form factor and the right tag.”

So why choose an IoT platform company rather than a provider who specialises in point solutions around contact tracing? Again flexibility – asset tracking expertise notwithstanding – is the watchword; not only in functionality and features, but in hardware.

“We’re seeing a lot of the current solutions out there be very tied to a specific type of tag or infrastructure,” explains Daniel. “We’re also seeing a lot of our competition is not purposefully built for contact tracing.

“We’ve taken the approach from day one that it’s not an asset tracker – it is for social distancing, and contact tracing,” Daniel adds. “We are also working with customers or with hardware partners who have that same approach, but if a customer also had a real-time location system already in their infrastructure, we could also integrate with that to provide additional information.”

Losant is speaking at the IoT Tech Expo North America Virtual event later this week, and the company is interested not only in how organisations are reacting to remote monitoring, but also what the future – uncertain as it is – will hold.

This harks back to the original conversation the company had with Clark Construction, and one of the latter’s key concerns: how can we use contact tracing to help understand what life after Covid-19 looks like? This is where Losant’s third line of business comes into play. “Smart environments are a very interesting play right now,” says Daniel. “Eventually we will get back to work a little bit more, so what does the smart environment of the future look like?”

Ultimately however, if the company’s experience is anything to go by, Covid-19 has seen Losant have conversations with customers which go beyond IoT. “This is new to everyone,” adds Daniel. “It’s about how your customers are working with HR to get the employee associated with a tag. We’ve become almost a consultant in contact tracing, beyond IoT and technology.”

You can find out more about Losant’s contact tracing solution here, and watch a video on how it works here, while learn more and register for their sessions at IoT Tech Expo here.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

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