New type of coronavirus alert tested at building site

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The coronavirus pandemic has posed a challenge for many working communities. A new coronavirus alert has been designed as part of the pan-European Nordic Token project. Its users do not need to register, nor do they have to own a smartphone. This guarantees full anonymity. A light on the device starts blinking if its owner has been potentially exposed to the virus by someone else carrying similar device. The device is being piloted in December at the Otava building site run by the YIT construction company in Espoo, Finland.

Nordic Token is one of four European projects aimed at developing a coronavirus alert based exclusively on European technology and innovation. Design criteria set by EIT Digital require that solutions must guarantee full anonymity in accordance with the European privacy regulation. The projects have been launched by EIT Digital, which promotes European digital change with its innovation activities and entrepreneur training, as part of the European Union's actions against the coronavirus. 

“It is important for us at EIT Digital to be involved in developing and funding innovations and technologies that are current and which benefit society. In just a few months the Nordic Token project consortium has succeeded in creating an anonymous tracking solution to help in pandemic-type situations”, says Lea Myyryläinen, Node Director for Finland at EIT Digital.

The Nordic Token development project consortium was assembled from European partners of EIT Digital and the project's development work is coordinated and funded by EIT Digital. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, EIT Digital's Finnish partner, is responsible for the practical management of the Nordic Token project.

“It is important to quickly isolate a possible coronavirus infection to minimise its societal impact. To this end steps were taken in the autumn of 2020 among the VTT project management group to develop a solution that has now moved to the piloting stage. The pilot here involves a construction site in which the continuity of the working processes is important regardless of the pandemic situation”, says Ville Ollikainen, Senior Scientist at VTT.

He sees complete anonymity as a special feature of the device. In contrast with other solutions, each time they meet, the devices create over Bluetooth a shared secret that is recorded in the memories of both devices. If either of the two parties catches the virus, their device will reveal the secret, which only the other party, and nobody else, will recognize. 

The present Nordic Token device is a battery-operated key chain with a battery that lasts for a year at a time. A light on the device starts to flash if its owner has been in contact with someone who has been infected at a moment when an infection has been possible. The device is completely anonymous, and no registration is required. Information about the recipient of an alert is also limited to the person in question. 

“This year, YIT has invested heavily in the implementation of policies to prevent infections and to monitor exposure to coronavirus. The EIT Digital Nordic Token pilot offers an opportunity to support Europe-wide development by managing potential infections by anonymously tracking the data of every person visiting a construction site, regardless of the kind of devices used by them. This is a good fit for our proactive approach and provides site-specific coverage and accuracy in support of the national Koronavilkku alert system", says Mikko Kuusakoski, Head of YIT 's Data and Analytics Unit. 

Rang Oy, an Espoo-based start-up company, was established to utilise and commercialise the results of the project, and it will be receiving the skills and knowledge developed in the project. 

“We are sure that having a physical device as a tracking mechanism will significantly mitigate the challenges of both individual companies and authorities in managing the situation for the simple reason that the device does not require the use of a smartphone, and that it suits many special groups – children and the elderly – very well, as is the case with many professional groups”, Lea Myyryläinen explains.

Taking part in the Nordic Token project are partners of EIT Digital from four different countries. In addition to VTT, which is responsible for the management of the project, the system architecture, data management, and encryption, the project has another Finnish partner, Mativation Oy from Salo, which is responsible for electronics design and testing. Collaborators include Nagoon and Moviemall from Sweden, the Estonian company Cybernetica and the Italian Reply ML. YIT, which has tested the coronavirus alert, is also a partner of EIT Digital.
 

Further information

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
Ville Ollikainen, ville.ollikainen@vtt.fi, tel. +358 400 841116

EIT Digital
Lea Myyryläinen, Node Director for Finland at EIT Digital
lea.myyrylainen@eitdigital,eu, tel. +358 40 573 1946

YIT
Mikko Kuusakoski, Head of Data and Analytics Unit 
mikko.kuusakoski@yit.fi, tel. +358 50 396 9509

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Ville Ollikainen

Ville Ollikainen

Research Team Leader