BIOS Goes Beyond Bluetooth for COVID Contact Tracing
Michael Alba posted on May 11, 2020 |
New app claims more accurate location tracking for more effective contact tracing.
(Image courtesy of BIOS.)
(Image courtesy of BIOS.)

Micron Digital Corp was in the midst of developing a drift-free inertial measurement unit when a certain virus decided to upend all of our lives. Though that project has been delayed by the novel coronavirus, Micron founder Rohit Seth is not one to sit still. His company immediately embarked on a new project: BIOS, a contact tracing app to combat COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Contact tracing keeps track of human interactions to create a chain of potential exposure to the virus. This chain is helpful in tracking and limiting the spread of COVID-19. However, relying on human memory to recall all one’s interactions from the past two weeks is less than ideal. Smartphones, with their ubiquity and built-in tracking technology, are a natural solution for contact tracing.

Phone-Based Contact Tracing

BIOS isn’t the only contact tracing app in development. Last month, tech giants Apple and Google put aside their differences and announced that they would jointly develop a phone-based contact tracing system. If it’s released this month as expected, the system will rely on Bluetooth to determine when users come into close proximity with one another and expose themselves to risk.

Bluetooth, however, may not be the best approach to contact tracing, according to Seth.

“Current attempts by big data companies at contact tracing involve use of limited and inaccurate methods of distance measurement. Complex set of communication exchange protocols, designed to operate over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), [is] used as the basis of measurement and communication between users. Such methods are anticipated to be ineffective and have already proved to be insecure,” wrote Seth in a white paper about BIOS.

In contrast, BIOS aggregates multiple sources of location data, including GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular signals, and more to improve location accuracy. BIOS has even developed what it calls a reference GPS—a far-reaching base station that, if deployed throughout a city, would improve location estimates even further. All told, Seth explained that BIOS can pinpoint a user’s location to within one meter of accuracy.

BIOS integrates numerous sources of data to provide <1m accuracy in location. (Image courtesy of BIOS.)
BIOS integrates numerous sources of data to provide <1m accuracy in location. (Image courtesy of BIOS.)

A Look at BIOS

BIOS, an acronym for Biokinetic Interactivity Observation System (or Biokinetic Input Output System), was developed in an impressively compressed span of three weeks. The app is nearly ready for deployment—Seth and his team are in talks with numerous government agencies to begin testing for a wider rollout.

The BIOS user interface is simple. Users are presented with a login, after which they have three options: to view their own location, to view their interaction history, or to take a self-assessment.

The BIOS app. Not pictured: the self-assessment option. (Image courtesy of BIOS.)
The BIOS app. Not pictured: the self-assessment option. (Image courtesy of BIOS.)

The interactions screen shows all instances where a user has come into contact with another user, alongside a classification of low, medium or high risk depending on proximity and exposure time. BIOS scans for other users at randomized intervals.

(Image courtesy of BIOS.)
(Image courtesy of BIOS.)

BIOS administrators—whether government officials or health care professionals—will have access to a dashboard that displays tracing data alongside up-to-the-minute COVID stats for their region. This dashboard also lets administrators customize parameters such as what constitutes high, medium and low risk, as well as program the self-assessment form for their region. Administrators can also be given different user roles on the dashboard.

A sample screenshot of the BIOS administrative dashboard. (Image courtesy of BIOS.)
A sample screenshot of the BIOS administrative dashboard. (Image courtesy of BIOS.)

If a BIOS user is confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus, health care professionals will input the infection into the dashboard. All users who came into contact with the infected user will be notified immediately through the BIOS app and given further instructions.

Achieving Critical Mass

It’s encouraging to see technological solutions like BIOS being developed to combat the current pandemic. The sooner such solutions can be rolled out, the faster they can begin helping health care workers and civilians. Like all contact tracing apps, BIOS can only be effective if it acquires enough users for practical contact tracing. According to Seth, the critical mass of users is somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, depending on the density of a region (the higher the density, the less users are required for critical mass).

Make sure you keep an eye out for contact tracing solutions being deployed in your area so you can do your part to slow the spread of the virus. You can learn more about BIOS at thebiosapp.com. To learn more about Micron Digital, read ROMOS Promises Drift-Free Location Tracking.


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