Tokens could track contacts to tackle coronavirus spread

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Several countries are trying to develop contact tracing apps to monitor and prevent spread of the coronavirus. These apps have technical, acceptance and sovereignty drawbacks. EIT Digital hopes to eliminate privacy and security concerns of contact tracing apps on smartphones by using tokens instead.

The solution of EIT Digital is to distribute tokens – small, physical devices integrated into a bracelet or a necklace. These would be easy to use, secure, anonymous and can be made from existing technology. The bracelets EIT Digital wants to use are made by the Flemish tech company Rombit. The technology was originally developed to monitor distance between employees and containers or forklift trucks. EIT Digital has asked Rombit to help think about how a bracelet for tracking the coronavirus could be produced in Europe.

The light on a token will be switched to red for someone that is tested positive. Anyone that has been in contact with that person, will see the light on their device switch to orange. Green means you are safe. The token should cost around 5 euro. A prototype has not yet been developed. EIT Digital therefore invites researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs, industry players and policymakers to contribute to the tracing system using physical tokens.

Apart from making the token affordable, the greatest challenge is getting a large number of people to use it. CEO Willem Jonker of EIT Digital explains in Het Financieele Dagblad: “The bracelet will only be used for tracing the virus. That should contribute to all-around acceptance. A smartphone with a lot of personal data is much more vulnerable and easier to hack.”