Intelligent, automatic contact tracing

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Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials have been advocating for contact tracing—a method of disease containment that identifies who could have been exposed so they can get tested for coronavirus. Unfortunately, contact tracing is easier said than done, but a team of former CMU researchers from Yodel Labs is trying to make it a little easier through the use of cutting-edge technology.

Patrick Lazik, the chief technology officer and co-founder of Yodel labs, earned his Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from CMU in 2017. Yodel Labs is a spin-off from ECE Professor Anthony Rowe’s lab that has its roots in developing high accuracy localization and ranging technologies. Their work has won Microsoft’s Indoor Localization Competition and Alphalab’s Hardware Cup.

Lazik and his team have created an easy-to-use system called Coyodel designed for organizations bringing their employees back to in-person operations during the pandemic. The system automates the contact tracing process by keeping track of each employee’s contacts using personal credit card-sized wireless tags. When they go near another employee, their tags sense each other. The tags then take data on how long they were together and how far apart they were. As employees leave at the end of the day, base stations at their building’s exit points automatically collect the data from the tags as employees pass by. If someone tests positive for COVID-19, Coyodel will be able to immediately identify everyone who came in contact with them—everyone who is now at risk for the disease.

Yodel Labs’ platform includes a highly advanced, intelligent analytics engine that simulates the probable spread of the disease throughout an organization using the collected contact data, medical test results, and employee-reported symptoms. This allows the organization to optimize their COVID-19 testing and containment strategy by pinpointing who is at risk, and only testing who needs to be tested.

The tags are what Lazik calls “set and forget” because they have an industry leading, two-year battery life. There is no need to rely on smartphones being charged or ensuring that employees are running an app. When someone is wearing their tag, they can be certain that it is keeping track of their contacts. One of the most interesting things about this platform is that it is targeted at companies, not individuals, Lazik said.

“It is aimed at medical, commercial, industrial, and educational markets for contact tracing of employees/students, rather than at consumers like most phone-based systems are,” Lazik said. “These markets benefit greatly from our comprehensive suite of analytical tools, which is something consumer phone-apps and even most commercial systems don’t provide.”

We built upon our extensive expertise in high accuracy localization, ranging, low-power embedded systems design and cyber-security to ensure the contact tracing is accurate, reliable, and secure.

Patrick Lazik, CTO and co-founder, Yodel Labs

The system is currently in use by an automotive manufacturing plant and a healthcare IT systems provider. With minimal infrastructure required and the high-level encryption used in the tags, this platform could work for almost any company. Lazik said that the system is also easily extensible to track other infectious diseases, which is especially interesting for medical customers.

“The system puts a high value on privacy and was designed from the ground up to ensure that only trusted entities such as system administrators or HR can access potentially sensitive information,” Lazik said. “We built upon our extensive expertise in high accuracy localization, ranging, low-power embedded systems design, and cyber-security to ensure the contact tracing is accurate, reliable, and secure.”

The system is available now. Find out more at www.coyodel.com.

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