Bangladesh start-up Inovace sets sights on coronavirus contact tracing app

  • Ireen Sultana,
    Published: 2020-05-26 09:44:00 BdST


The outbreak of COVID-19 in Bangladesh has provoked the imposition of several drastic and unprecedented measures as part of a nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

One initiative that particularly caught the eye was Chattogram Metropolitan Police's use of a mobile app to constantly monitor the whereabouts of overseas returnees during their mandatory home quarantine.

Following their lead, Chattogram and Chandpur district police also began relying on the app, 'Nirapod', to enforce the quarantine requirements in their localities.

The app was developed by Inovace Technologies using the expertise of young IT specialists in the country. They now believe that it is also possible to roll out a 'contact tracing' app that can be used across the country should the government call for it.

As the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic rages on, the US along with several European countries are relying on technology to retrace a person's movements to quickly identify the people they might have infected and take immediate steps to limit any further spread.

The Internet of Things-based Inovace Technologies has already laid much of the groundwork for its own contact tracing app, according to its Chief Executive Officer Munirul Alam.

"A beta version of a contact tracing app using Bluetooth will be released very soon," he said.

The firm has also been in talks with 'one or two' business conglomerates about the app, he added.

Enlarging on how the app could be beneficial in a corporate setting once the lockdown is lifted, the Inovace Technologies CEO said, "If you look at the big private company offices, each building accommodates around 2,500 people since it's a big community."

"Therefore there's to be a lot of interactions once the offices reopen and this contact tracing app can help ensure the safety of employees."

It is very much possible to have the app up and running immediately if the government is interested, according to him.

As migrant workers began returning home en masse between April and May, Chattogram police were contemplating using technology to ensure that they were complying with the 14-day self-quarantine requirement.

That is when Inovace Technologies proposed using their Nirapod app to track the quarantine status of citizens.

Explaining the rationale for developing the home quarantine management app, Munirul said, "A lot of people were coming back home from abroad near the end of March. It was important that they were quarantined at home.

"We believed that this application could make the process easier for the government and so we approached a high-ranking CMP official with the proposal to put the app to use."

The tech firm wanted to provide the police with "free" access to the app to assist in efforts to curtail the spread of the infection and raise awareness about the disease among members of the public.

"CMP welcomed the proposal. Since we had already done a lot of work on the app by then, we managed to deliver it very quickly."

The app was being used by the CMP in 16 police stations, Additional Deputy Commissioner (PR) Abu Bakkar Siddique told in April.

At its core, the app utilises 'geofencing' technology to track one's location and movements through a mobile phone. Later, the developers started working with the sensor features in smartphones to enhance the app's effectiveness.

Addressing the limitations of geofencing technology, CEO Munirul said, "Geofencing can be used to pinpoint a single location. Even though we initially said the app uses geofencing, we later realised that the technology isn't fully effective at times."

This is because a person could leave his mobile phone at home and venture out, according to him. The app therefore utilises smartphone sensors like gyrometers, accelerometers and campus to monitor movements.

On how the app actually works, Munirul explained, "If a mobile phone lies idly for a while, it can be an indication that its user is either asleep or away from the device. We've tried to figure out whether a person is moving or not using the phone's gyrometer or accelerometer sensors."

"Many people tend not to move around a lot at home but that changes when they are outside or on the balcony. We are using some artificial intelligence to track the movement of a person in quarantine over a small space."

Currently, the app is only compatible with Android devices and available to download on Playstore under the name Nirapod.