Florida engineers turn to IoT to stop Covid-19 spread

  • September 29, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson
Devices can tell when kids get too close together

IoT engineers at the University of Florida have created wearables that can help stop the spread of Covid-19.

A wristband that tells kids when they’re too close together at school. A wearable that detects a possible Covid infection before the person feels sick. Even a mask that cleans the air around the wearer. These real-life smart devices emerged when students and professors at the University of Florida’s Warren B Nelms Institute for the Connected World turned their ingenuity in the IoT to the pandemic.

The devices are in the prototype phase now and will get smaller, sturdier and more refined before they’re available to the masses. But they work.

The smart mask not only protects its wearer, but reduces the amount of virus in the air. It was created by Swarup Bhunia, director of the Nelms Institute. When a sensor in the mask detects particles the size of coronavirus droplets, it releases water mist that not only blows virus-laden droplets away but clings to the airborne virus, causing the particles to fall to the ground.

This could protect health-care workers and those who need to be in crowded indoor settings. It could even help non-Covid uses in areas with severe air pollution.

Elevated temperatures that could be early indicators of a Covid infection are often missed by sporadic temperature checks. And because of variations in people’s base temperature, even a spike that’s detected might not be high enough to register as a fever.

That’s why Soumyajit Mandal is leading the development of the Trident smart band, which uses machine learning to exclude factors that can confuse temperature readings. The wristband senses activity and ambient temperature, while constantly monitoring a person’s temperature via sensors on the radial artery, alerting the wearer via an app of potential infection so they can get tested and avoid spreading the disease.

In could help in situations where mass testing or screening is needed, such as employees coming back to the workplace. The wristband – expected to have a price of $20 or less – could help clear workers return and better allocate tests to those who could have an undetected infection.

Kids can struggle to maintain the recommended two metres of physical distance. A device that alerts them when they’re too close to a classmate could help, but outfitting kids with smartphones and connected wearables comes with price and privacy concerns.

A team of Nelms researchers has a low-cost, privacy-preserving method. Using Bluetooth Low Energy, their wristband measures Bluetooth signal strength and converts it to distance. If wearers get too near to each other, the bands signal them with light and vibration.

Beyond alerting kids when they’re not distancing, the bands could help with contact tracing. Data from a classroom’s bands can be uploaded to the cloud at the end of each day, so if a student gets sick, health-care professionals can see which devices were in close contact.