Tracking Virus Outbreaks in the 21st Century

Woman in mask tracking for viruses Virus tracking in the 21st century

Technology to the Rescue!

As we have progressed with the pandemic, new ways of combatting it have revealed themselves. To trace infection chains, different solutions have been discovered and trialed.

Human contact tracers have been of great help. They contact the people who have tested positive. They ask where they’ve been and who they’ve interacted with. They then track those people down and recommend quarantine.

This still requires a lot of man hours.

Once again technology offers a solution.

Different technologies can mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These technologies include Bluetooth, GPS and IoT. They all work in different ways, but they all have the same purpose in this situation: to trace the infection chains.

So far the focus has been on apps and smartphones, but the data could be collected via other devices, such as wristbands and other wearables that incorporate IoT technology.

2017 - A Significant Year for IoT

As IoT devices have a huge potential for implementing the technology required for tracing, it would be helpful to look at investment activities in IoT technology.

As can be seen from the graph below, investment has been fairly constant throughout the decade with a few exceptions here and there. Peaks in investment can be seen in 2017 and 2018.

2017 was a significant year for IoT development in many ways. The US senate debated the IoT Cybersecurity Act 2017, which established clear guidelines and showcased the benefits of IoT. Google took big steps in launching IoT-based services and devices, and Dell announced a $1B investment in IoT edge analytics.

Moreover, 2017 was also the year in which there were more connected IoT devices than connected non-IoT devices. i.e. IoT devices surpassed PCs, smartphones and tablets in connectivity.

Although the graph above reveals a decrease in recent years, IoT isn’t going anywhere. A prognosis below by IDC indicates that the trend will grow in the 2020s. 2022 is expected to be the year that IoT spending passes the $1 trillion mark.

It can also be seen that growth continued during 2020, despite the global pandemic.

Based on this data, it is safe to assume that interest in IoT will continue to grow as time goes by. As a result, IoT will be applied in an increasing variety of ways.

Three groups of solutions can be identified from an analysis of the current market: mobile apps, SaaS apps and wearables.

3 Innovative Solutions

Mobile apps

Apps designed to track virus outspreads

SaaS apps

Software as a Service apps


Devices that can be worn or carried on the body

Mobile apps

Mobile apps that trace infection chains are called contact tracing apps or exposure notification apps. They assist human contact tracers in their work.

These apps use either Bluetooth or location services, such as GPS. So far Bluetooth has gained more attention, as Google and Apple have placed their combined support behind it.

A device with such an app is constantly broadcasting a unique message while simultaneously looking for those messages. If two devices are in close proximity long enough, those messages are traded and stored on the phone. Throughout the day, the device will trade these messages with the devices it interacts with.

If someone tests positive for COVID-19, their device will transmit the information to devices that it has been in close proximity with. A device will periodically scan for messages in the database.

On the other hand, location services will show where the device has been rather than what it has interacted with. If someone who tested positive shares their location tracking data, the app would notify people who have similar time stamps. If Bluetooth and location tracking are both used, this would provide further context.

SaaS apps

Software as a Service (SaaS) is not so much a competitor with the previously mentioned apps, it’s more a means of delivering them. SaaS relies on cloud technology and is even considered to be a part of the vocabulary of cloud computing.

SaaS apps provide faster, more accurate and less costly approaches compared with their counterparts. The technology also safeguards an individual’s privacy, which is important when implementing tracing apps that require people to share their private information.

An example of such a SaaS app is Everbridge’s COVID-19 Shield, an app aimed at businesses. It is designed to protect the safety of people while maintaining business operations. The app offers situation reports and statistics, protects employees with tailored messaging and traces their location, all inside one app.


Wearable technology could be anything from a pair of socks to a hat, basically any electronic device that can be worn or carried on the body. This is where IoT steps in, and because of it these devices can exchange data with the network.

The amount of connected wearable devices worldwide has doubled in the space of three years, increasing from 325 million in 2016 to 722 million in 2019. This number is expected to reach more than one billion by 2022.

Wearables provide the monitoring and measurement of a user’s personal data. This is precisely why they are used to trace infection chains.

With a wider range of devices talking to each other, more information about their users can be collected. It therefore makes it easier to track and control virus outbreaks.

Do you want to ask for more info?

Get in touch.

The ceo of Catapult

Mikael Juntunen

Chief Executive Officer

+358 50 405 5252

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