The Navy wants to use wearable tech to fight spread of COVID-19

200326-N-VI040-1002 NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan (MAR. 26, 2020) Hospital Corpsman Apprentice Jacob Velazquez of Redlands, California checks the temperature of an incoming Sailor to the Branch health Clinic on Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi. The temperature checks assist in preventing the potential of COVID-19 on the base. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Rafael Avelar/Released)

After struggling with outbreaks of COVID-19 on its deployed ships, the Navy is considering using wearable tech to help track the proximity of sailors to one another in an attempt to ensure social distancing and fight the spread of the virus.

The service issued a request for information Thursday seeking commercially available proximity tracking technology based on wearables that continuously measure the distance between themselves and others nearby. Those devices will then be connected to a processing station that will upload their proximity data to “calculate the total time and at what distance two individuals with the wearables have been in close contact,” says the RFI.

“The proximity records will primarily be used to identify those individuals that were too close for too long to a person that has tested positive for COVID-19,” says the solicitation. “Secondarily, this data will be used to determine if social distancing policies put in place by the government employers are effective.”

It’s unclear from the RFI where the Navy would use the wearables — on deployed ships, where the spread of the coronavirus has been most problematic, or at bases onshore — though the latter appears more likely. The devices “are only intended to be worn while at work,” the RFI says. “At some point or at multiple times during the day, the proximity records will be transferred to a station(s) that will store the records for all employees of a given organization where all of these records can be viewed and analyzed.”

Many of the Navy’s large vessels deployed before the worldwide outbreak hit its peak have been forced to stay at sea for record durations. The ships have been forbidden from docking at ports to prevent the potential spreading of the coronavirus onto aircraft carriers and cruisers. Likewise, onboard visitors are not allowed and there are strict rules in place for the delivery of supplies.

The Navy is looking for a quick turnaround, asking vendors to submit information by July 16.