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Geolocation in times of COVID-19

– How geolocation can help us on flattening the curve (and avoid its increase again)
– We analyzed different kinds of applications that have been announced around the world

Madrid, April 3rd, 2020. The current COVID-19 pandemic we are living in, puts each Health Care System in the world on testing their strengths and the effectiveness of the various control systems that are being implemented.

Among these systems, technological tools related to geolocation are taking place in many headlines, pointing them as a great help plan or even as the “secret” tool of several countries such as Singapore or Korea for the control of this pandemic.

Let’s analyze the greatest two kinds: the data analysis of massive geolocation and the mobile applications to fight the pandemic.

Massive geolocation of mobile devices

When our mobile phone has signal coverage, it really means is that it is able to communicate with some of our operator’s antennas. During this communication, the antenna will register several data that identify our phone, so our mobile company will be able to know on which antenna we are connected to.

As we move on, our mobile will change from one antenna to another, always looking for the one that offers better coverage (i.e. closer to us). It happens even if we are not using the device or making a call. Our mobile operator will keep a record of the antennas which our mobile phone went through, which provides a register of our movements.

The accuracy of this data will be low or very low. In sparsely populated areas, it only will be able to communicate which town we are in. However, at cities it can achieve an accuracy of a few hundred meters due to the higher density of telephone antennas to which our phone can be connected.

What information can we obtain from these data provided by our telephone operators? The movements of the entire population with a mobile phone. We will be able to know if we are making long or short trips or if we are always in the coverage cell of “our nearest antenna”. We will be able to study how our trips vary during the week comparing to the weekend. All this information is of vital importance to reduce the exponential increase of the pandemic, allowing us to evaluate the success of the implemented measures and act accordingly, or to identify possible new COVID-19 spots.

Micro-geolocation through mobile applications

In addition to the above imprecise but massive data, smartphone applications can obtain much more precise data, although, it will be much more difficult to obtain macro data.

Recently, several Covid19 applications have been launched, which are information tools for decongesting information or emergency phones.

In this analysis we will focus only on those applications that use geolocation as a tool to fight against the expansion of COVID19. For this purpose, the application created by the government of Singapore will be used as an example.

How does the Singapore’s application work? The TraceTogether application uses the Bluetooth on our phones to broadcast a signal to other nearby smartphones, and at the same time, catches the Bluetooth signals they emit. It allows each smartphone to create a record of those smartphones that we have crossed by in our office, in the subway or in the supermarket.

If at any time a user of this application is diagnosed with COVID19, the doctor – with a second application – will notify all the users who have crossed paths in the last few days with the diagnosed patient. By this way, it will be possible to warn those people to start a quarantine and if they develop symptoms, to also notify the other people they have crossed by, even if they do not know them at all.

This information is very useful in preventing people with mild or asymptomatic symptoms from spread the infection to those around them, and thus, cutting the transmission chain.

So, why don’t we already have a similar application in Spain? For a company specialized in geolocation, it is an easy solution to develop. However, in complex times as nowadays, making this application effective would require by the government, health administrations and other entities to promote it intensely among the population, as well as to distribute the version to the Heath staff. If it does not happen, what’s the purpose to have this app installed if our neighbors, work colleagues and friends don’t have it? or if when you receive the bad news that you are infected by COVID19 and your doctor cannot notify your contacts?

Finally, we would like to point out that Situm is making its technology available to society and the competent authorities free of charge, as well as its team of experts, so that together we are all able to reduce the effects of this pandemic.

More information in our blog.

Author: Victor Álvarez Santos, PhD in autonomous mobile robotics from USC and CEO of Situm Indoor Positioning, a company specialized in indoor and outdoor geolocation systems through the smartphone.

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