As the world struggles to come to terms with how to manage the ‘new normal’, as a result of COVID-19, a Yamba-based scientist has patented a device that, he says, will assist in doing exactly that.
Unlike the COVID-Safe app the Australian Government has promoted and distributed, Dr Edwards’ device, branded ‘traci™’, does not rely on Bluetooth technology, nor is it capable of collecting the user’s private data.
Sadly, while the Australian Government appears to be ignoring Dr Edwards – Health Minister Greg Hunt’s office dismissed his phone and email enquiries, says Dr Edwards, because ‘We’re very busy here; don’t you know we’re in a pandemic?’
Meanwhile, he has been invited to submit documents to a health agency in the United States.
But how does it work?
“Let’s take the current outbreaks in Victoria,” Dr Edwards says. “If traci™ was implemented in those local communities, not only would contact tracing be close to 100 per cent effective, but the rest of the state of Victoria would not have to endure the same lockdown.
“In the context of the pandemic, we’ve set up our guidelines for social distancing and so forth – if I walk into a coffee shop, for example, we are supposed to still be social distancing.
“So if you’re too close to one contact, the devices exchange data and information.
“If you’re too close to two people, then you’ve literally over socialised.”
How does it differ from the government’s app?
“traci™ uses a novel type of secure radio transmission that is very efficient, and only needs very, very low power.
“Similar to the way that Bluetooth® uses signal strengths to estimate distance between devices, traci™ uses signal strengths measured between the devices to set a distance threshold.
“But unlike Bluetooth, Traci can measure multiple contacts at once, all within a few milliseconds.
“Unlike Bluetooth, Traci is totally secure and, even if it could be hacked, the information is totally useless to anyone other than health authorities, because it is just a small data packet with no personal information.”
How would the contact data logged in a traci™ system be matched with the people using the device?
“Traci serial numbers are held against Medicare or [pre-existing government] data; a key focus has been on maintaining the anonymity of the public and security of personal data and location.”
You say it could help solve the current global crisis, that’s a bit hyperbolic isn’t it?
“We’ve seen that social distancing, isolation and shutting things down temporarily has a very positive impact on reducing the spread of the virus – basically the world is going to wake up to the fact that nothing’s going to get back to normal any time soon.
“In Victoria, for example, if this system was implemented in the surrounding postcodes and the postcodes the government has locked down – it doesn’t track anybody – the system would record those contacts to a point where, if you had one person who randomly tested positive and you have no idea where they got it from, all of a sudden you’ve got all of their contacts and, for those people, you’ve got all of their contact details.”
How could people be compelled to participate?
“Let’s say Yamba has a number of cases and is in lockdown … you would put a base station (or a black box) in a cafe, supermarket, etcetera, and tell the community this is serious stuff.
“Wherever it’s implemented, there’s a device at those venues that tags everybody that comes through – this would also remove the need to fill in a register when entering a venue.
“Regarding community compliance, if Yamba is locked down to contain or manage the virus … you need to be wearing one of these.
“For example, if I’m walking down the main street in Yamba, and I don’t have one of these on, people are going to let me know.”
Doctor Edwards says he had this idea right at “the start of this and that’s why I contacted the health minister; this is the sort of thing that should be manufactured in Australia, to supply them to the world.
Doctor Edwards quips: “We could have everybody in Yamba working!”
On a more serious note, he says, unless there’s more interest from the government, he will most likely be compelled to “sell it off to someone in the United States, because … so far I’ve had absolutely no response from the Australian authorities.”