Rivals will make it easier for health officials to map exposure to COVID-19
The global threat of the spreading coronavirus pandemic is bringing together fierce mobile computing rivals Apple and Google, which are joining forces to help with the much-needed ability to conduct contact tracing.
The Lowdown: Engineers for both have started working on a project to leverage Bluetooth technology to help people determine if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 by tracing the movements of others.
The Details: Apple and Google are taking a two-step approach in developing a program using APIs and other technology to help with contact tracing, while also maintaining a focus on user security and privacy:
> First step: Both companies in May will release APIs that will enable interoperability between iOS and Android devices using apps from public health authorities. Users will be able to download the apps through their vendors’ app stores.
> Second step: In the following months, Apple and Google will jointly build a Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform for both iOS and Android. The platform would enable more people to participate than simply using the APIs and interact more broadly with a wider ecosystem of apps and government health agencies. Both companies will publish information about their work so others can analyze it.
The Impact: Widespread testing for the virus and for antibodies, as well as being able to trace the movements of those who have been infected with COVID-19, is key to understanding the spread of the coronavirus and helping get the economy back on its feet. With the slow response to the pandemic by the country’s leaders, private companies have stepped up to address these issues.
Background: Tectonix GEO, a geospatial data company, last month used its technology in conjunction with X-Mode, a location data company, to trace the movements of people who were in Florida during Spring Break after they left the state and went back to their homes and schools. The project demonstrated the dangers of ignoring social distancing requirements and how quickly the coronavirus can spread when large groups of people get together.
In an effort similar to what Apple and Google are doing, MIT this month said it’s using Bluetooth technology for a system that allows a person’s device to transmit a signal to other nearby devices. If a person tests positive for COVID-19, they could upload the list of “chirps” their smartphone had put out over the previous 14 days to a database that others could scan to see if any of those chirps – random strings of numbers – match those picked up by their device. If there’s a match, the person will be notified that they have been exposed and what steps to take next.
The Buzz: “All of us at Apple and Google believe there has never been a more important moment to work together to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems,” Apple officials said in an announcement. “Through close cooperation and collaboration with developers, governments, and public health providers, we hope to harness the power of technology to help countries around the world slow the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate the return of everyday life.”