Tech firms deploy Bluetooth enabled contact tracing apps to contain spread of coronavirus

Technology companies have begun developing their own contact tracing systems to help prevent and contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreaks in their offices. The development comes in the wake of countries begining to ease lockdown measures and return to the workplace.

Juniper Networks Inc plans on equipping its nearly 10,000 employees with work identification badge holders that have a Bluetooth chip which will help record a worker’s movements and interactions in the office, said vice president Jeff Aaron in an interview.

Juniper Networks Inc’s system uses Wi-Fi routers and access points from its Mist unit which communicates with the Bluetooth chips on the badges. Once this data is collected, it helps determine which employees need to be tested and isolated after a colleague tests positive for the new coronavirus.

While all U.S. states have eased coronavirus lockdowns, work-from-home has become the norm in the Silicon Valley. California has reported more than 86,000 coronavirus cases and 3,500 deaths, the lowest tallies in the United States relative to the state’s large population.

Mist, a small but fast-growing Wi-Fi equipment maker, is selling its new system to other businesses through its annual subscription of $150 per access point; around 25 customers are testing it product, said Aaron while adding, businesses are typically reluctant to spend on replacing older technology but are willing to fund contact tracing in the workplace.

“They are saying: If this is a reason for me to rip out my old Wi-Fi and put in a Wi-Fi plus BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) solution and support contact tracing use cases, I can definitely get budget for that,” said Aaron.

Several software companies have announced tools during the pandemic to automate workplace contact tracing and help customers avoid disruptions. Among them is Slovakia-based Symbiosy which said, its own software along with sensors from technology partner Quuppa, helped identify about 40 people to test after an employee became infected in April.

“Manually, we would not even have been able to get that precision,” said Tomas Melisko, head of real estate company HB Reavis’ Symbiosy unit. “And we would need to have sent twice that many people for testing” if solely analyzing building access logs.

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