Apple and Google have announced a hugely ambitious — and potentially controversial — contact tracing system designed to help users prevent spreading the novel coronavirus by figuring out who has had contact with infected patients.
While details on the system are still slim — given how early in development the project is — we do know a few things, including that the companies are planning to use Bluetooth Low Energy (Bluetooth LE) radio technology as the core of the system. One of the keys here is Bluetooth LE’s proximity profile (PXP), the core technology that Bluetooth relies on for device locating and tracking purposes. By measuring how much power is received from a Bluetooth radio signal (the RSSI value), we can estimate how far away it is.
Historically, contact tracing has been a manual process. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, many countries have turned to technology to scale the reach and efficiency of public health authorities. So far, it’s not clear that tech-enabled contact tracing has been all that effective. Many of the proposed systems rely on voluntary participation, which has generally been weak, and the Bluetooth technology on which the system depends can at times be blunted by various forms of concealment.
Digital contact tracing is unlikely to be the silver bullet for any government response plan anytime soon. Social distancing, wide-scale testing, and isolating sick individuals are significantly more important. And when it comes to contact tracing, we know for the immediate crisis at hand that people are vastly more effective than smartphones. At the same time, it’s possible to see how digital contact tracing could at least complement other, related efforts, including manual contact tracing where scaleability may ultimately be a significant constraint. - Tyler Farmer | emailRead more...