CALGARY -- Carrying a pass card at work is normal practice for countless Albertans, but a team of researchers from the University of Calgary’s geomatics lab want to change the way those cards share information.

 “Basically it’s creating a digital map of where people are and the risk level of the places,” says Dr. Steve Liang, PhD and newly appointed Rogers Internet of Things research chair.

Employee cards would work together with sensors on areas such as doors that would log things such as touches, and the amount of time people spend close to others. Liang says the majority of the data would be stored on the individual cards but could be retrieved if someone in the workplace tested positive for COVID-19.

 “One of the keys to protecting people in this time is to have contact tracing, so basically know who they interact with and the places they interact with,” Liang says.

The network of sensors would also help focus dis-infection efforts.

 “If you have these kinds of sensors you can have a sensor just watching the doorknob, and then you know how many times the doorknob has been touched and you can really prioritize your cleaning crew,” he says.

Open source framework

The hardware is not new, but the way in which it functions together and the data is used will be. Liang says their system is well along in testing, and he hopes to have an open source framework to share with the international community in the coming weeks.

The system raises privacy questions. On the technology side, Liang says it should be used in closed environments, such as university campuses or inside a workplace. In addition, most of the data will be stored on the individual cards. The holder would then have a choice to opt in to share that data if it’s needed.

It’s a solution that could help get the economy going again by allowing institutions to contain any outbreaks quickly. But as with any new technology, it can be hard to predict what other uses may come up in the future which could infringe on people’s privacy.