As soon as mine-tech entrepreneur Jennifer Sloat heard about COVID-19 circulating the globe, she knew she had a software solution that could help track its spread in the workplace.
Under normal circumstances, MineIQ’s subscription-based software aggregates real-time data collected by sensors throughout a mine operation. The company can then use that data to more efficiently track assets such as fleet vehicles, locations of material, manage inventory, and more.
But for the last month, Sloat’s Sudbury-based team has been tweaking the platform, enabling it to trace COVID-19 infections and help stop their spread.
“Because our system is very configurable, we can change it very easily; it was built that way,” Sloat said.
“We're changing the mobile app to have a reporting feature where you can report your symptoms, and if they're severe then we can send out the message to any of the mobile phones that were in proximity to it.”
Bluetooth beacons are placed around a workplace, and employees download a mobile app onto their smartphones, enabling location tracing.
The beacons can then track the movements of the cell phones, noting where an employee has been, for what duration, and what other employees were nearby.
If an employee becomes ill, they can report it on the mobile app, and a manager would be notified that the employee is going home to self-isolate.
The company can then look at the tracing information to determine who else may have been exposed and should stay home to avoid further transmitting the virus.
The app can also send out automated messages to the entire team with self-isolation guidelines, updated reports on the workplace, and return-to-work requirements.
Sloat already knows the software works. But now MineIQ is seeking a willing partner that can help test it out.
The preferred candidate would be a company operating in an office setting with lots of employees – Sloat suggested a minimum of 75 – who may not all know each other or interact on a regular basis.
Businesses whose operations span multiple levels in a building could also benefit, Sloat said.
“Where it wouldn't work is in a small company with 15 to 30 people: you know if John's home sick; you know if you've been around John,” she noted. “In a larger organization, you don't know everyone you've been in contact with.”
Sloat acknowledges there may be lots of questions about the technology, most of which centre on employee trust and the right to confidentiality.
Not every employee will feel comfortable having their cell phones traced, nor will every worker voluntarily download and use the app, she noted.
But privacy, employee-employer trust, and the value of the technology for comfort are among the concepts she’s hoping to brainstorm with a partner.
“The tracking's the tough part,” Sloat said. “I don't think people are ready for that yet, so that's part of what we want to test.”
If there’s enough interest for the concept to go ahead, Sloat said her company can work with clients to explore other add-ons.
In a hospital, for example, the app could be designed with a floor map that shows patients where to go to get tests or provide directions on how to get to their medical appointments.
But, first, the conversation has to get started.
“Let’s start small and what else can we do,” Sloat said. “With COVID, some people say I’m too open about the challenges, but I like to address them right away. I know there's going to be challenges, so let's put them on the table. Let's talk.”