Looking forward to a recyclable, open sourced, wearable, contact tracing device

So, the other shoe is about to drop. Gov is planning on providing everyone a wearable contacting tracing device to counter the limitations of apps that run in mobile phones (from the Apple ecosystem) – like the TraceTogether (the downstream of OpenTrace).

It also seems that a “newer” version of TT will now ask for NRIC (National Registration Identity Card) in addition to mobile phone number at registration.

Not a good thing, really, NOT A GOOD THING.

Why? One can generate any NRIC  number.

This report claims that the hardware device will be like TT/OT and only do contact tracing. What the device would be doing is to implement the BlueTrace protocol. This device can take on the form factor of a watch, a pen, or a key fob. It should be easy to design and build. And once built, put the designs, schematics etc on a Open Hardware License and published on Thinkiverse (or anywhere else). There are plenty of examples of wearables there. No need to reinvent the wheel.

And once the designs are published say under the CERN Open Hardware licence or the licenses under the Open Source Hardware Association. We need to spread the ideas far and wide and get a greater (re)use.

Why does this matter? First, we need to build trust in these devices. This is the same effort as in open sourcing of TraceTogether that was done in April and helped significantly to raise the level of trust in the application. There are challenges in adoption of the app because of battery and application run issues in the Apple mobile phone ecosystem. We need a usage population of about 65% of the local population in Singapore for it to be useful. TT is apparently at about 1.5 million of downloads, but there is no way to know if it is actually running.

If there is a separate device that runs the same BlueTrace protocol, it will operate with devices that run TT (or OT) so we can have a good chance to go highly reliable contact tracing.


I can already see that perhaps in a year or two from now, there will be millions of these devices that are thrown away and adding to the enormous waste – batteries etc. The device has to be designed with recycling as a default. This is 2020 and we must, as default, build devices that can be recycled trivially.

We don’t have to wait for G to do the design and build and distribution. The local open source community can step up and do this. We can design something that can then be sliced and diced as needed with different form factors.

If you are keen to work on this, please leave a comment or send me email at h dot pillay at ieee dot org. I will be calling for an online meeting of interested developers, designers, engineers soon.


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