Were we the first to invent a COVID19 App?

This is the authentic account of a conversation occurred within Troublemaker Members on designing an App to trace COVID-19.

#LongStory (opens in a new tab)

  • Go here for the long story
  • In brief:
    • Saturday 2020-01-25 at 16:49 P threw an idea
    • HJM challenges the idea
    • At 18:42 the idea is ready to become a project
    • Friday 2020-04-10: Apple and Google partner on COVID-19 contact tracing technology
    • Then, what’s next?

The takeaway is:

A multidisciplinary team of experts drafted in the last week of January 2020, a few weeks into COVID-19 pandemic, in a less than 2 hours the application that over 2 months later Google and Apple announced as a joint development they were engaging into.

How could we figure it out so early and so fast?

  • We look at reality for what it is
  • We have at hand all the edge technologies
  • We invent innovative solutions daily

And we live in China, the country that first faced the epidemic and showed the importance of tracing and containing the contagion.

Troublemaker WeChat Group Thursday 2020-03-26

P – 16:49

Guys, I was searching on the internet and could not find it.
I think it is the right time to design a simple application that uses BT (Bluetooth) capabilities of mobile phones to help to map and prevent the spread of pandemics.

The idea is this: each device should advertise an ID which is unique and not attached to any identification information of the user.
Each phone keeps an updated local database of each detected other device for as long as 30 or fewer days with location and time.
When a user recognizes symptoms and activates a report on the application (could be a disease, but also a food poisoning) then the application updates a cloud list of reports, again with no identification of the user.

Each phone using the application receives updates of the reporting IDs and if it finds a match in the local record, then it can alert the user of probable exposure in a specific place and time for a specific condition.
I am not sure people would trust the anonymity of the system, that we can definitely enforce, but I presume at least in Asian countries there might be a good rate of acceptance.
Bluetooth (and BLE Bluetooth Low Energy) would be elective technologies because of the short range of reach, consistent with most human to human contagious.


It would very surprise me if this idea cannot bank Chinese Govt grants! It would provide crowdsourced intelligence to epidemiologists of unsurpassed value. I’d be glad to help you with this.

JY – 17:15

Really cool idea Pietro! can it also measure BT signal strength? Would be good to just get those people who were close enough to each other.


I don’t think it will work. You would need the BT in constant discovery mode. Doesn’t work on iOS at all AFAIK, and more current Android only allow it from the system settings too. Besides the battery draw…
Needs to be an additional device to carry, a BT beacon. Which could be stationary too, but much worse anonymity…

JY – 17:23

just implants;
BT implants for everyone with wireless charging;
It’s illegal to have no battery.

P – 17:36

They could all synchronize and to be active for 2 every 10 seconds. Most phones synchronize already, and yes can be a beacon with the same anonymity concept.
It should be able to detect distance with approximation. Would it be possible to use the phone radio to detect other devices in close range and then activate BT?

Also, it could be possible to optimise so that devices advertise only when moving and static devices advertise only one for all, and only to update the list of presence to requesting newcomers. A device leaving would also advertise on leaving to keep the list updated. In fact, the system need not be deterministic, but to assure at list a certain threshold of accuracy for effective epidemiological control.

Instant contact is not relevant, while prolonged exposure (i.e.: minutes) is.
I think we can brainstorm awhile and if it makes sense come out with a basic plan for POC (Proof of Concept).


I’m just saying some BLE Mesh solutions out there already handle Node leavers and joiners


I am sure I am not inventing anything, just seeing an application of mature enough technologies.


The thing is, phones will not do. They are built to be secure and will not advertise if you don’t open the system settings.


It’s an application that’s 100% ripe for dev & potentially large-scale deployment. Run an App on the phone to open up ability to advertise.


It is not possible for an app to do that!
Android could do that a few versions before at least…

P – 17:49

Android phones may relay messages to the apple things and if none around… Sorry Apple fans, virus is all for you.


No, you can’t just receive BT without a paired device, and no advertising without the system settings open.


Anyway, Apple releases specific permission upon request and thorough revision of the app proposed.
I studied the matter. If that is the major obstacle, I think it is possible to get the solution.


IMHO basically this, and possibly battery life.

P – 18:42

Ok, then we might have a point running two or three rounds of ideas and then if clear try to make a plan.

P – 19:09

Any other suitable wireless method that could provide the basic functionality I described? Some lower level of the WiFi stack? Modulated audio beeps?

Well, and then what next?

We are a team of people capable to invent solutions.

We see a problem through the light it casts on its solution.

So we got the solution, but we are not all entrepreneur.

Many of us are gurus, some are entrepreneurs.

Often the entrepreneurs get our help to find solutions for problems and then they can develop product or services.

Often gurus throw solutions they have seen without an entrepreneur throwing the problem.

But only seldom those solutions find someone to sponsor them, even when they are genuinely marvellous opportunities.

In this case other independently figured out, much later, what we saw as the obvious solution of a complex problem, and they had the resources to make it.

So what’s next?

You who read!
You are the one who can join our team and be the one finding here ideas, opportunities, solutions for your projects, and those needing your help.

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