Work is underway on a standardized Bluetooth specification that would allow wearables to be used as part of smartphone-based track and trace systems.

Exposure Notification Systems (ENS) work by alerting users if they have been in close proximity to someone who is later diagnosed with Covid-19.

Nearly all public systems have relied on Bluetooth because of its ubiquity across the smartphone industry.

Bluetooth wearables

“It is incredibly inspiring to see the Bluetooth community’s collaboration in finding and creating innovative ways to leverage Bluetooth technology to address the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mark Powell, Bluetooth SIG CEO. “We are grateful for the dedication and commitment of the Bluetooth members and proud of their work on this important effort.”

However there is an acknowledgement that many groups of people, such primary school children and those in care homes, may not use a smartphone. Instead, an inexpensive wearable Bluetooth device could help them participate and keep them safe while still maintaining the same level of security.

“There are several population groups critical to managing the spread of diseases like COVID-19 with relatively low smartphone penetration, presenting a coverage challenge for smartphone-based Exposure Notification Systems.” said said Elisa Resconi, a professor at the Technical University of Munich leading research on the spread of COVID-19.

“We believe including wearable devices in an ENS would be a very effective method for extending its reach to support these important groups.”

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) says as many as 130 members of the Bluetooth community are working on the specification, an initial draft of which is expected to be published for review within the next few months.