As managed environments turn to wearables to help keep people safe, extended battery life and battery-free solutions will be critical for device fleets
In April, Apple and Google made headlines when they announced a partnership to make it easier for governments and health agencies to roll out COVID-19 exposure notifications systems. These applications will work by using Bluetooth® to exchange anonymous identifiers with other smartphones that are less than six feet away. If someone becomes infected, health officials can notify people who recently came into close contact with that person, while still maintaining everyone’s privacy.
But smartphones are just one platform that will be used for Bluetooth-based exposure notification systems designed to help mitigate the spread of the virus. Atmosic believes wearables – like wrist bands, beacons and sensors – will also be essential in the fight against COVID-19 when used in conjunction with mask-wearing and testing.
Not Everyone Has a Smartphone or Constant Access to One
Although smartphones have become a pivotal part of modern life, it’s important to remember that many people still don’t own a personal smartphone. Young children might enjoy playing games on their parents’ smartphones, but many parents will understandably wait until their child has reached a certain age and maturity level before giving them a smartphone. Senior citizens are another group whose level of smartphone ownership is lower than the rest of the population. Plus, even if someone has a phone, they might not have constant access to it. For example, workers in a food production plant might own smartphones, but they might not be able to use them during work hours for safety reasons.
So how can people without constant access to a smartphone stay informed about their potential exposure to the virus? Wearables are an easy solution. Wearables are relatively low-cost, lightweight and comfortable for all-day wear, making them an ideal choice whether a child is going to school or an adult wants to go about their daily activities without carrying around a smartphone.
Managed environments will be one of the biggest use cases for wearable-based exposure notification systems. A managed environment is simply a location that a company or another entity, like the government, oversees. We anticipate that exposure notification systems will be particularly popular in the following types of managed environments:
- Shipping warehouses and factories
- Corporate campuses
- Healthcare facilities
- Cruise ships
- Amusement parks and stadiums
There are a number of reasons why companies will rely on wearables to help keep their employees and customers safe. One reason is that smartphones and other personal devices are often not allowed in industrial environments. Beyond that, many companies will require customized exposure notification systems that go beyond the parameters set by the applications run by health and government authorities. For example, a facility might want wearables that log a contact event whenever employees come within 12 feet of each other, which is double the distance of current exposure notification systems.
Companies might also want to use wearables that can track other types of valuable information, such as temperature. If an employee’s temperature goes beyond a certain threshold, companies could mandate that they go to an onsite health clinic for further evaluation. Wearables might also be designed to withstand certain conditions, like high temperatures, and be tamper and tear resistant for continuous wear. Additionally, different types of managed environments will require different levels of privacy protections. For example, users’ location data might be kept private for use in corporate campuses, while factories might want to know exactly where its employees are on the factory floor at any given time to ensure the health and safety of all their workers.
With Bluetooth 5.0, wearables can now exchange information over longer distances (~100 meters). This provides a wide range of flexible deployment options. For example, a managed environment might program wearables to share information with smartphones monitored by management located close by, while data gathering readers or hubs might be placed far away.
Long battery life will be key for managed environments deploying wearables for long term wear. In most cases, the managing entity is not set up to change batteries every few weeks, plus the labor resources needed to change batteries can quickly drive up costs. Adding lots of batteries to wearables will make these solutions bulky and hamper their usability, so solutions with low power consumption will be preferred.
Where Atmosic Comes In
Atmosic’s M2 and M3 system-on-chip (SoC) solutions integrate the company’s groundbreaking Lowest Power Radio and On-demand Wake-Up technologies. The Atmosic M3 Battery-Free Bluetooth 5 SoC also integrates cutting-edge Managed Energy Harvesting technologies for extended battery life and can even replace the need for batteries entirely. Atmosic’s technologies are based on the long range (~100m) Bluetooth 5.0 protocol, so the M2 and M3 will work well with wearables based on Apple and Google’s framework, in addition to working with customized exposure notification systems.
Thanks to Atmosic’s power-efficiency innovations, our solutions can enable at least double the battery life – or extend battery life far beyond that, in many cases – of competitive solutions embedded in wearables with coin cell batteries. Depending on the size of a coin cell battery, it is possible that a basic wearable with an Atmosic SoC could last multiple years.
In the future, wearables with Atmosic’s technology will also take advantage of energy harvesting to further extend battery life and, in many cases, eliminate the need for batteries entirely. Energy harvesting technology helps to reduce the size of batteries in a device and enables sleeker form factors for wearables. For example, we could envision a monitoring device placed in a mask in the near future.
We are already seeing that many wearables manufacturers are looking to bring to market wearables designed for exposure notification systems in a wide variety of environments and use cases. At the most basic level they will be notification devices, or they could have temperature sensing for additional monitoring capabilities. We anticipate that this space will see rapid growth in the coming months as companies rush to bring these wearables to market and ramp up efforts to help stop the spread of the virus.