Wearable devices for social distancing and contact tracing

- Montréal, Quebec

Phenomena, a small start-up firm from Montréal, Quebec, develops virtual reality environment systems. With support from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), Phenomena was able to create a device that promotes social distancing measures in the workplace, while simultaneously respecting user privacy.

In 2019, through NRC IRAP advisory services and funding, Phenomena first developed a haptic system intended for virtual reality environment systems for the entertainment industry. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Phenomena quickly pivoted to adapt this technology for use in contact tracing and social distancing. The device, the Radius wristband, is worn on an employee's wrist and uses vibration and lights to signal when wearers are closer than 2 metres apart.

To ensure user privacy, the device relies solely on the identification number associated with a wristband, coupled with Bluetooth technology to communicate data of users who have been in close proximity throughout the day. These interactions can also be conveniently recorded in a private online portal managed by the employer, allowing for easier contact tracing within an organization if an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

By promoting social distancing, the Radius wristband could play an important role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Phenomena's device was selected by Videotron, a Canadian telecommunications company, to commercialize the product and received its first order of 5,000 units.

"NRC IRAP has been a blessing to our company. They supported our R&D vision early on to create smart wearables. Not only has this support enabled us to partner with Videotron to create an innovative social distancing tool to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also allowed us to work with other major players in the entertainment industry. Programs like NRC IRAP are a pillar to the continual development of Canadian technology and its intellectual property."

Awane Jones, CEO & President, Phenomena