Bluetooth SIG strives to make wearables work as COVID-19 contact-trackers

Don’t rush out to buy hardware, this is months from deployment


The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG), the body that oversees the wireless standard, has started work on a specification to allow wearable devices to take on the role that smartphone contact-tracing apps currently play in COVID-19 contact-tracing and notification efforts.

The group’s rationale is that wearables “can better address population groups where smartphone usage remains low, including children in primary school and older adults living in care facilities.”

The SIG envisions that wearables will be bonded with a smartphone and a contact-tracing app, and do the same things that apps do – pinging other nearby devices that run Bluetooth and sharing ephemeral and anonymous identifiers that authorities can use to notify of exposure to COVID-19 carriers. But the smartphone owner will be the one who receives notification of exposure to a COVID-carrier.

Don’t feel the group’s efforts mean you need to rush out and buy a theoretical CovidCuff or iCough for Granny or the kids*, because the SIG says the first draft of the spec “is expected to be released and available for review within the next few months.” Which seems a little sluggish given that more than 130 members of the SIG are already working on the project and Singapore already uses wearables that link to its contact-tracing tools.

Another potential source of delays is that the SIG’s announcement and explainer mention the joint Apple/Google Exposure Notification System but don’t explain what if any work will be required to make the new Bluetooth spec to work alongside such schemes. ®

*Both totally made up products.

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