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The Tech Keeping Us One Step Ahead of the Pandemic | SignalWire

The Tech Keeping Us One Step Ahead of the Pandemic

Drones, smart thermometers, robot dogs, and illness detectors – what do they all have in common? Each of these technologies has played a unique role in 2020 in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. While digital technology has been used this year to implement modern contact tracing, other unique devices have played a role in preventing the sick from coming into contact with others in the first place – by monitoring temperatures in crowds, detecting common and early signs of illness, disinfecting indoor spaces, or promoting social distancing.

With some essential locations that are never able to fully close, like airports, hospitals, parks, apartment buildings, or grocery stores, workplaces can make use of technology to help keep the ill apart from the healthy, especially when it comes to protecting essential employees. And even though it’s a tricky virus, given that asymptomatic people can still spread it, every preventative measure that can be taken counts. The innovative world of technology is in a unique place to come up with ways to take care of people.

So what’s some of the spectacular tech in place to help mere humans in the face of a global pandemic?

Spot, the robot dog

In Singapore, a popular park is home to a robot dog named Spot, built by Boston Dynamics. Spot’s job is to help people maintain social distancing rules as they stretch their legs and get out in one of the few places they can roam. The robot has 360 degree sensors and walks around the park scanning for people breaking social distancing rules, and when it finds people standing too close together, plays an automated message asking them to please remain one meter apart from each other.

Proximity Trace

In a similar vein, Triax built a device called Proximity Trace that beeps when employees stand less than 6 feet away from one another. This little device is not only useful for promoting social distancing, but tracks workers’ movements throughout the day. This way, if one person is infected by the virus, the tracker can identify people and equipment that may have been exposed to them.

Smart thermometers

There have also been a number of technologies in use to detect temperatures in an attempt to sense people in a crowd who may have a fever or other flu-like symptoms. Hitachi created a device that detects body temperature from up to ten feet away using infrared cameras. This gives businesses a chance to identify high-risk individuals and take secondary measures like additional screenings and quarantine before allowing these people into a building or other property. The temperature scanners are useful for areas where people come and go constantly, like airports and train stations.

Kinsa Health has also developed smart thermometers that connect to the internet and can detect fevers as soon as people experience them. This thermometer data is then used as an early warning sign that illness is spreading, and has been used in the last few years to detect outbreaks of the flu. In the recent case of the coronavirus pandemic, these thermometers have been used to detect unusual clusters of fever that could indicate hotspots. Daily maps can be used across entire countries to indicate spikes. With fever being the most common symptom of COVID-19, this data is incredibly useful in finding hotspots for the disease as soon as they erupt.


At the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., there exists a little drone called the Draganflyer X4-ES which lurks in the sky to monitor crowds from a distance. Infrared sensors can read a person’s facial temperature from up to 100 yards away from the safety of the sky. But unlike smart thermometers, these drones could be adjusted to detect other common symptoms besides fever, such as watery eyes, blood pressure, stress levels and heart rate.

Always-listening devices

A device called FluSense, which can be adapted to look like a smoke detector, takes a slightly different approach. Instead of reading temperature, this technology listens for another incredibly common symptom of the virus: coughing. Using an onboard microphone array that detects coughing and sneezing, as well as a thermal camera to monitor crowd sizes, this device records data on flu-like symptoms as they spread. This can be used in public spaces to record the transmission of symptoms and identify hotspots.

Workplace monitoring devices

In workplaces that contain essential employees who must gather in a certain location, there are also gadgets that exist to make sure workers are taking care of themselves while making it easier to do so. Triax Technologies has a device that functions as a sensor for construction sites which can be clipped onto belts. It automates a check-in, check-out process that eliminates the need for groups of people to line up and gather at entry points. Hitachi has an automated hand-washing monitoring device, which detects whether employees wash their hands efficiently for 20 seconds in a company restroom.

UVD robots

With spaces like hospitals having to constantly disinfect, robots and AI that can help speed up and regulate this process are particularly advantaged in keeping doctors, medical staff, and other essential people safe. Some hospitals have implemented the use of UVD robots that move autonomously through empty rooms, using ultraviolet light to destroy viruses, bacteria, and fungal spores. Some are stationary, but others are mobile bots that even have robotic arms that can pick up items or open doors.

Many of these technologies report data online where the public can check in, to avoid hotspots and figure out if they may have come into contact with sick people, or allow employers to monitor the health of employees. It remains to be seen if such technology will be in use once the coronavirus pandemic is under control, especially with concerns about privacy and mass surveillance. But many of these devices have existed for a few years now, and are simply finding a particular usefulness in the current year. So whether they’re temporary or here to stay, the main goal for now is to keep as many people healthy as possible.