Microchip Patch Designed to Detect COVID-19 Remotely
Jacob Bourne posted on June 02, 2020 |
Wearable technology intended to fight pandemic raises privacy concerns.
SkyWater microchip patch with wireless connectivity. (Image courtesy of: Business Wire.)
SkyWater microchip patch with wireless connectivity. (Image courtesy of: Business Wire.)

SkyWater Technology recently announced the development of a new technology designed to detect possible cases of COVID-19 early. The company is partnering with Asymmetric Return Capital and Linear ASICs, a semiconductor company, to produce a wearable microchip that can measure human body temperature and transmit the data wirelessly. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 became a global pandemic earlier this year, is still spreading and taking lives in addition to causing economic havoc. With a vaccine against the respiratory disease still pending, many companies are trying to use technology as a means to slow down transmission.

One of the common early symptoms of the illness is a fever, and the microchip-patch can detect a rise in body temperature as a possible sign of COVID-19. The idea is that although someone may run a mild or moderate fever, they may be unaware of it. The device would alert them so that they can self-isolate and thus avoid infecting others. The patch is described as being similar to a small, round Band-Aid® that adheres to the skin and pairs wirelessly with a smartphone.

“Now that temperature checks are becoming ubiquitous in return-to-work policies, a domestic supply of low-cost, no-touch thermometers is critical,” said Bryan Wisk, ARC Founding Partner. “SkyWater and Linear ASICs have enabled us to develop a high volume of wireless temperature sensing tags that can remotely monitor temperature and keep those with symptoms at home. This will be especially important as we head into flu season later this year.”

The plan is to integrate the patch into contact tracing systems that track COVID-19 cases and notify individuals who may have unknowingly come into contact with an infected person. Apple and Google currently have a partnership to develop a contact tracing software system for smartphones utilizing Bluetooth beacons. The SkyWater patch is geared to be integrated with such systems and the company has also partnered with SensiML, an AI company involved with health monitoring.

“Given the opportunity to address a critical need that has national interest, we were able to respond with rapid development of this vital temperature sensing solution in a U. S. manufacturing facility,” said Thomas Sonderman, SkyWater President. “Our Technology Foundry business model enables us to provide volume manufacturing with IP security in a flexible and agile environment, which facilitates rapid time to market and minimizes supply chain disruption risks by offering a domestic sourcing option.”

This type of COVID-19 detection technology may be able to help reduce rates of transmission; however some have expressed concern that it may create more opportunities for personal health and other data to be compromised. The wireless nature of the technology also makes it vulnerable to cybercrime. Furthermore, privacy experts have questioned whether such invasive measures to contain the virus may continue by default even after the pandemic is over.

SkyWater has also been working on a microfluidic micro-electro mechanical system component that’s used in testing for COVID-19 and identifying mutations of the virus that causes it. The component is also being used in a genome sequencing system manufactured by MGI.

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