A South African startup has launched a cheap approach to contact tracing in efforts to help with coronavirus measures.
Contact tracing is a method of tracking used in countries like the United Kingdom, Singapore and South Korea to aid in containing SARS-CoV-2 infections. The tracing is able to track exactly who was in contact with an infectious person and thus limit further contact.
South Korea, one of the only countries on Earth that have been able to bring a massive COVID-19 outbreak rapidly under control used contact tracing heavily. Currently, the country has just over a thousand cases and is no longer forcing stay-at-home lockdowns and most businesses are open.
The country is relying on high-tech solutions — a government app tracks the location of new airport arrivals, and mandatory location tracking bracelets are given to people who break quarantine laws.
Business Insider reports that the UK is also now due to trial its own contact-tracing app that will warn users of when they’ve come into contact with someone who has the virus. These solutions are strictly high-tech, however, and use apps installed on smartphones. Although the smartphone penetration in South Africa is over 80% it is still no match for the massive existing install bases of smartphones like in the UK or in South Korea.
Luckily, South African startup Automatech has stepped forward with a new low-tech solution. The company’s Active Contact Tracing uses nothing but small tags and its own software to track contact between people. According to Tim Stevens, a director at Automatech, the new technology has attracted international interest as well as the attention of much larger South African companies.
The technology was originally developed for the South African market, to require no sophisticated hardware or lots of data. The devices are relatively cheap – $15.09 (R250) for a unit, which means that a medium-sized company of 50 people can get set up for $905.57 (R15,000).
Companies like SA mega-retailer Tiger Brands and Japanese multinational corporation Pioneer have already signed up for Automatech’s solution. The company is now in talks to bring their contact tracing to several mining companies.
The tags don’t track your location. “We don’t care where you are,” says Stevens. Rather, they track interactions with other tags, so that the company can see who you’ve come into contact with.
The tags could save companies millions of Rand if they function as intended, as in the case of an outbreak in a factory, for example, the entire factory needs to shut down for weeks while all employees self-isolate. Instead, the tags will be able to indicate precisely who infected persons have come into contact with. Only those who have come into contact need to go into quarantine, while the rest of the force can return to work.
The tags will run for a year without needing a charge.