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Video: Fighting COVID-19 with wearables

23 September 2020

Researchers from the University of Florida (UF) have created a line of wearable smart devices designed to help healthcare workers and consumers mitigate the risk of being infected by COVID-19.

While the devices are only in the prototype phase, they could potentially help slow the spread of the disease or future respiratory illness.

The first prototype is for a smart mask that not only protects the wearer from particulate matter in the air, but also reduces the amount of virus in the air. A sensor in the mask detects particles the size of coronavirus droplets and releases water mist that not only blows virus-laden droplets away, but also clings to the airborne virus causing the particles to fall to the ground.

UF said the mask could help protect healthcare workers as well as those in crowded indoor settings. The mask could also help protect the wearer from exposure to severe air pollution.

The second prototype, called the Trident smart band, uses machine learning to check if a user has elevated temperatures, which could be an early indicator of a COVID infection. Because people’s base temperatures vary throughout the day, a spike that is detected might not be high enough to register as a fever. The wristband senses activity and ambient temperature that constantly monitors a person’s temperature via sensors on the radial artery. The band then alerts the wearer through an app of potential infection so they can be tested.

UF said this wristband could help in areas where mass testing or screening is needed like a workplace, helping to clear workers for a quicker return to work and allocating tests for those who may be infected.

The final prototype wearable is a Riskband that alerts children when they may be too close to a classmate or friend. Researchers have developed a low-cost option that uses Bluetooth and draws little power. The wristband measures Bluetooth signal strength and converts it to distance. If the wearers get too close to others, the bands signal them with light and vibration.

UF said this could also help with contact tracing. Data from a classroom band could be uploaded to the cloud at the end of the day, so if a student gets sick, healthcare professionals can see which devices were in close contact and test accordingly.

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