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US Army offering $25 million contract for early-warning COVID-19 wearable

The US Army is offering a cool $25 million contract to a tech company that can develop a wearable sensor capable of detecting early symptoms of COVID-19.

Essential readingTop fitness trackers and health gadgets

As originally reported by CNN, they are inviting proposals that predominantly utilise existing technology. This is probably to cut time from concept to development.

Anything that can be worn against the body is a good candidate. So think fitness trackers, smartwatches or something that can be attached to a shirt or that sticks to the body. From that position the wearable should be able to gather information on fever, respiratory difficulties and molecular biomarkers of exposure to the virus. In an ideal world, it should even be able to determine the presence of antibodies against COVID-19.

The hope is that the combination of these will allow for early detection of the disease. A services member can then be tested in a proper facility and receive medical attention before the coronavirus fully takes hold.

“There is a dire and urgent need for development of rapid, accurate wearable diagnostics to identify and isolate pre-symptomatic COVID-19 cases and track/prevent the spread of the virus,” the Army said in an initial solicitation that was issued through a medical consortium.

A few candidates are already around, although none of them fulfil all the above criteria. For example, Fitbits monitor heart rate and pulse Ox which can be used to indicate breathing difficulties. A number of Garmin fitness trackers and smartwatches do the same, as do Polar watches. But this is pretty much where it stops and none of these wearables measure fever or have the ability to determine exposure to the virus. But the technology does represent a good start.

Nevertheless, the Army is looking for something much more advanced. For example, they have goggles in active use that can take the temperature of 300 troops in 25 minutes. This is particularly useful to ensure safe movement in largely populated areas, transportation, airports and similar.

It’s all part of the effort to contain the spread of the virus amongst the 1.4 million US military personnel. There are already some 4,000 cases among the active duty force. New recruits are having their temperature taken and they are quizzed about symptoms and any exposure they’ve had with those infected with the virus.

The Pentagon, on the other hand, is installing a tripod-mounted infrared sensor at its entrance and exit next to the metro. This measures the body temperature of people and is capable of doing so almost instantly. The system is in preparation for some 20,000 of its people to return to work. The Pentagon’s plan is to eventually install some 20 of these around its facility.

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