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COVID-19 exposure notifications are coming to Bluetooth wearables

Smart bracelets could be vital for helping children and seniors during the pandemic.

Published onAugust 19, 2020

Woman wearing facemask 1
  • COVID-19 exposure notifications will come to Bluetooth wearables through a new specification.
  • You’ll still need a companion device like a phone, but you won’t need a constant connection.
  • A draft spec should be ready within a “few months.”

COVID-19 exposure notifications can be helpful if you have a smartphone, but there are many people who don’t have them, like younger children and seniors in care homes — and the tech industry wants to be sure they get alerts as well.

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group has unveiled plans for a specification that would bring the Exposure Notification System from Apple and Google to Bluetooth wearables like pendants and wristbands. The spec would maintain the privacy and security of the existing approach, but wouldn’t require a direct internet connection to get data for potential exposure events.

The SIG told VentureBeat that these devices would still need to link to an internet-connected “proxy device,” but there would only need to be a periodic link. The device could talk to a parent’s phone or a shared phone at a care center, for example.

Read more: How will the pandemic impact the mobile industry?

It may be a while before the spec is put into use, however. The Bluetooth group only expects to have an initial draft spec ready in the “next few months,” and it will take time after that before wearables support exposure alerts. That’s a long time to wait during a pandemic, and there’s a chance the technology won’t get much use by the time it’s ready.

There’s also the the question of getting people to use the devices. Exposure alert systems like this only work if a large portion of the population agrees to use it, and that has proven to be a challenge in numerous countries. Still, that’s part of why the Bluetooth wearable program exists. In theory, it makes the technology accessible to people who can’t or won’t install an app but still want to know if they need to isolate and get tested.

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