The U.S. Navy is considering the use of wearable devices to help enforce social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic. The devices would be issued by the Naval COVID Rapid Response Team as part of a broader proximity tracking program in the force.
In concept, the proposed solution would be comparable to civilian technologies that have emerged in the past few months. Most notably, HID Global has launched a new Workplace Safety application that uses Bluetooth fobs to measure the distance between two individuals. The fobs issue an audio alert if those individuals are standing too close to one another for an extended period of time.
The Navy is searching for a similar utility, but has several unique security concerns that could prevent the use of a commercial solution. Since a device with GPS tracking could give away the location of a base or a boat at sea, the Navy is hoping to find devices that do not store location data. It also wants to ensure the privacy of its troops, and consequently wants a device that does not capture personally identifiable information or health data.
The Navy has issued a request for information to solicit feedback from potential partners. The organization is asking for a device with a form factor similar to a wristwatch that would be able to interface with up to 100 other devices. Members of the Navy would only need to wear the devices while they are on the clock, while the devices themselves would record any interactions that take place at a distance of less than ten feet.
“The proximity records will primarily be used to identify those individuals that were too close for too long to a person that has tested positive for COVID-19,” explained Navy officials in their request. “Secondarily, this data will be used to determine if social distancing policies put in place by the government employers are effective.”
The Navy has struggled to contain COVID-19 in the past. Many ships have been at sea for record periods of time, while more than 10 percent of one 4,865-person crew came down with the virus. Thales has also raised the possibility of proximity tags to maintain social distancing protocols in air travel.