Governments across the world have attempted to implement test and trace systems in response to the coronavirus. Whilst some countries were able to successfully harness test and trace capabilities, others, during the height of their countries’ wave quickly became overwhelmed with the volume cases and were simply unable to maintain tracing protocols to stay on top of the virus. Social distancing measures have been implemented worldwide and generally all conform to the standard protocols of staying 2 m apart, regularly washing hands, avoiding contact with the nose and mouth, wearing masks where applicable and avoiding larger gatherings. Many countries, are now looking to, or have implemented a digital test and trace system, whereby, Bluetooth signals on smart phones will be able to detect and inform participants of whether they have come into contact with someone who has developed COVID-19. However, in some countries such as the UK, a reliable app for this strategy has not yet been rolled out. As we look to navigate semi normal lives it may become tiring and confusing to manage staying safe. Therefore, some app developers, have designed specialized apps to help people socially distance.
One App, Crowdless, helps users avoid crowded places completely using anonymized data to track mobile devices. It utilities existing and anonymized data sources such as Google maps and Google places, combined with crowd sourced data to help users identify whether an area is too crowded to visit. Users in the area, are asked to confirm whether or not a location is busy and other users can then decide whether or not to enter that perimeter. Crowdless, was initially developed within three days by London School of Economics students to help students and alumni observe social distancing guidelines. The app is now available for the general public on both the Apple app Store and Google Play store.
Speaking on the Crowdless app, which has proved popular, co-founder, Yohan Iddawela said: “our hope is that Crowdless can help people observe social distancing more effectively, stay safe, and play a part in slowing down the infection rate of COVID-19. We’re also committed to ensuring that this remains 100% free for everyone to use. We’re humbled by the amount of support we’ve received. The waitlist for our pre-release version was growing at a phenomenal rate and we have been receiving so many offers for help from people across the world.”
Google has also released a new tool which uses augmented reality to help users determine how far two metres is precisely, allowing them to socially distance within that parameter. It unfortunately, is only available on Android phones and not accessible to iPhone users. It utilities the phones camera to measure a person’s surroundings and establish a 2 m distance. Useful when the user is in a shopping queue or at a socially distanced gathering.
1point5 is another app that helps individuals observe a satisfactory distance from other people. It is available to both Android and iPhone users, and was developed by the United Nations technology Innovation Labs. It’s scans nearby mobile devices and when a device enters the adjustable perimeter of 1.5 to 2.5 m it alerts the user using Bluetooth RSSI signals. Enabling a perhaps unwary user to move away and establish a new distance.
Whilst, there are many available test and trace apps available such as, Singapore’s TraceTogether, most do require a majority of users in the area or country to have downloaded and be actively using the app to make it effective. Many of these technologies rely on a user updating their profile to indicate whether or not they are infected with coronavirus. If they have contracted the virus, anonymized signals will be sent out to other smart phones that have come into close proximity with the infected persons. Those notified will normally be asked to isolate and be given health information on how best to do so. Some apps even offer the ability to request a test.
Many different countries have pursued their own, either centralized or decentralized, test and trace models. Currently, the UK government is pursuing the rollout of a Google/Apple developed app but until it is fully approved, rolled out and potential users download the app, it will not be fully effective. However, many different governments are implementing different apps whether by their own development or via another company. Therefore, it is probably a good idea to research the predominant test and trace app being used in your area or by your government to effectively harness this added safety measure.