The hot new COVID tech is wearable and constantly tracks you

By Natasha Singer, The New York Times Co.

In Rochester, Michigan, Oakland University is preparing to hand out wearable devices to students that log skin temperature once a minute — or more than 1,400 times per day — in the hopes of pinpointing early signs of the coronavirus.

In Plano, Texas, employees at the headquarters of Rent-A-Center recently started wearing proximity detectors that log their close contacts with one another and can be used to alert them to possible virus exposure.

And in Knoxville, Tennessee, students on the University of Tennessee football team tuck proximity trackers under their shoulder pads during games — allowing the team’s medical director to trace which players may have spent more than 15 minutes near a teammate or an opposing player.

The powerful new surveillance systems, wearable devices that continuously monitor users, are the latest high-tech gadgets to emerge in the battle to hinder the coronavirus. Some sports leagues, factories and nursing homes have already deployed them. Resorts are rushing to adopt them. A few schools are preparing to try them. And the conference industry is eyeing them as a potential tool to help reopen convention centers.

“Everyone is in the early stages of this,” said Laura Becker, a research manager focusing on employee experience at the International Data Corp., a market research firm. “If it works, the market could be huge because everyone wants to get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Companies and industry analysts say the wearable trackers fill an important gap in pandemic safety. Many employers and colleges have adopted virus screening tools like symptom-checking apps and temperature-scanning cameras. But they are not designed to catch the estimated 40% of people with COVID-19 infections who may never develop symptoms like fevers.

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Some offices have also adopted smartphone virus-tracing apps that detect users’ proximity. But the new wearable trackers serve a different audience: workplaces like factories where workers cannot bring their phones, or sports teams whose athletes spend time close together.

This spring, when coronavirus infections began to spike, many professional football and basketball teams in the United States were already using sports performance monitoring technology from Kinexon, a company in Munich whose wearable sensors track data like an athlete’s speed and distance. The company quickly adapted its devices for the pandemic, introducing SafeZone, a system that logs close contacts between players or coaches and emits a warning light if they get within 6 feet. The NFL began requiring players, coaches and staff to wear the trackers in September.

The data has helped trace the contacts of about 140 NFL players and personnel who have tested positive since September, including an outbreak among the Tennessee Titans, said Dr. Thom Mayer, the medical director of the NFL Players Association. The system is particularly helpful in ruling out people who spent less than 15 minutes near infected colleagues, he added.

College football teams in the Southeastern Conference also use Kinexon trackers. Dr. Chris Klenck, the head team physician at the University of Tennessee, said the proximity data helped teams understand when the athletes spent …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Business

      

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