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Singapore Tests Contact Tracing Device for Worksites

A Canadian contact tracing technology company was selected through Singapore’s crowdsourcing initiative called the Open Innovation Platform to develop a contact tracing system in workplaces as part of the country’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts. The Building and Construction Authority put out a challenge for a tech solution that can manage COVID-19 contact tracing at construction sites, among other things.

Identifying contacts and ensuring they do not interact with others is critical to protect communities from further spread. If communities are unable to effectively isolate patients and ensure contacts can separate themselves from others, rapid community spread of COVID-19 is likely to increase to the point that strict mitigation strategies will again be needed to contain the virus. In workplaces, if a worker is found to be infected with COVID-19 at a construction site, the entire site may have to be shut down to contain the spread of the virus.

But with a contact tracing device and system for workers, shutting down the entire site may not be necessary anymore because the individuals who had close contact with the infected worker can efficiently be identified and isolated from other workers.

As per reports, the tech company’s managing director said that without such a system, companies may have to wait for quarantine orders and the like from the authorities to be issued, and firms may be in limbo for about a week. But with this system, if a COVID-19 positive case is found, companies can decide in a day on what immediate steps to take.

The device works by exchanging Bluetooth signals between devices to figure out who a worker has been in close contact with, like how the Government’s TraceTogether app and token work. But with this device, the employers themselves will be able to quickly access the data. The device can also warn workers if they are too close to other workers – less than 1m – by vibrating and emitting an alarm, so that even if the worksite is noisy, the workers are alerted.

The new device has an additional feature – an LED light that will flash to alert workers if they are too close to other workers. This can be useful if workers must work at night. The device had to be resistant to dust and water so that it would not malfunction easily in a construction environment. To protect workers’ privacy, the device does not track their location and does not store personal details such as their names or photos.

A prototype of the device initially tested was slightly smaller than a feature phone and could be attached to a safety helmet. The tech company is now testing a smaller version of the device, following feedback calling for a smaller version. Further tests for the devices are in the works, and there are plans beyond contact tracing to use them to alert workers if they approach restricted equipment or dangerous zones.

The device has received interest from other construction companies in Singapore, as well as from Malaysia, Japan and the Philippines. A major semiconductor manufacturer has already signed a global deal with the company.

The device was recognised by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat while presenting Singapore’s national budget for the financial year April 2021 to March 2022.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, the new national budget is structured to equip Singapore workers with deep and future-ready capabilities. As part of the budget, the Open Innovation Platform facilitates the matching of problems faced by companies and public agencies with solution providers, and co-funds prototyping and deployment. Through the Open Innovation Platform, the Building and Construction Authority was matched with the aforementioned contact tracing system to develop solutions for the safe reopening of worksites.

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