Researchers at Boston University have developed a new app that informs people about potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. The tool works by automatically tracking all people who came close to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.
The smartphone app promises to speed up detection of the disease and to help prevent new transmissions across communities. Any Bluetooth-enabled cell phones could use the app.
It captures Bluetooth signals from phones in close proximity. When an infected individual reports their positive results, the app will determine the pings recorded in the past 14 days.
It will then automatically notify other app users of their possible interaction with the COVID-19 patient. The app also provides recommendations to meet or consult with health experts or authorities to discuss the potential exposure to the coronavirus.
Ran Canetti, a professor of computer science at Boston University, said their new app shows how automatic contact tracing can be done with mobile phones and without relying on a centralized opaque database.
“That’s important because it counters the prevailing perception that mitigating the pandemic via automatic contact tracing mandates large-scale, government-led violation of privacy of all or most of the population,” he said in a statement.
Researchers said all data from the COVID-19 detecting app will be verified by a public health agency. The patient can stay anonymous and has the option whether to report infection or not.
Offering The COVID-19 Detection App To Public
The team at Boston University is now working with other universities to enhance the app. The researchers have joined the Private Automated Contact Tracing (PACT) team to help monitor and manage coronavirus cases with the new tool.
“PACT was started in response to COVID-19,” Mayank Varia, researcher at Boston University, said in a statement. “This technology can be useful beyond the current epidemic since we [plan to] have this capability ready to go in advance of the next epidemic–which hopefully won’t be for a long time.”
PACT includes scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Weizmann Institute of Science, Brown University and Carnegie Mellon University. The collaboration would help speed up the process to provide the app to the public for faster coronavirus tracing efforts, according to Ari Trachtenberg, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Boston University.