Eavesdropper: Tracing innovations

By: |
May 11, 2020 2:27 PM

Like Smart Bluetooth , we need low energy GPS so that phones can survive longer . Cos also need to focus on battery innovations to support VR and gaming

aarogya setu, aasrogya setu hack, smart bluetooth, low energy GPSThe app has now 9.25 crore users, and a loss of confidence in the system means failure.

Last week, an ethical hacker on Twitter announced that the Indian government’s newly launched contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, was leaking data and had some security and privacy concerns. Although he did not reveal what these concerns were, the creators of the app on Thursday responded with a lengthy post addressing security and privacy concerns. The minister of information and technology had earlier assured citizens that the app was safe and that all data would be wiped after the corona pandemic is over. The app has now 9.25 crore users, and a loss of confidence in the system means failure.

While the corona pandemic has put tracing apps in focus, it has also brought to light issues such as security and privacy. Those discussions, however, have been in the public domain for long now. But another aspect of these apps is the increased focus on hardware.

Most of the limelight has indeed been stolen by “Hack the crisis” events and apps that can help address concerns. But as this trend passes and there are enough apps to populate the ecosystem, there is going to be a dire need for real hardware innovations.

Take Bluetooth technology, for instance. Apple and Google, last month, announced that they would be using Bluetooth to aid in contact tracing. Instead of relying on location data like most government systems-this is also the reason that they are the focus of heated discussions-the companies announced that they would be using existing Bluetooth technology in phones to trace contacts. Each Bluetooth, in this case, would bear an ID, which would be masked from all, until the user tests positive. But more interesting than how these companies would do this is the technology behind it. Almost a decade ago, right at the onset of IoT devices, new technology was created. Bluetooth Low Energy was to help make it easier to use Bluetooth as it worked in short bursts of energy transferring MBs in a few seconds and did not drain battery life. Over time, it has become more efficient. Had the technology not existed, it would have been virtually impossible for Apple or Google to enable Bluetooth tracing. Between the time you would have activated the app and used it, the phone would have run out of juice.

Similar innovation awaits GPS. GPS, no doubt, has become much more efficient and sophisticated. Instead of just relying on GPS signals, most chips use mobile phone data to triangulate position saving energy. These are still a drain on the battery.

With location becoming much more critical-even if the threat of coronavirus passes, people would still want to be mindful of surroundings-companies would work towards making phones or watches last for a longer duration. The two simple ways to do this is to work on improving battery life and make existing systems more energy efficient.

GPS, thus, needs improvement. If the technology can be made energy-efficient, it will mean that people can always leave their location on without worrying about battery drain. Not only will this help the government in tracing data more accurately, but it will also support a host of apps which require location intelligence. Besides, it will help improve smart city infrastructure; companies like Google can provide mobility trends in an anonymized form to better understand traffic conditions.

The other dimension is battery life. Although phones can now host 6000 mAh battery and handle processes much better than before, with bigger RAMs and higher usage, battery constraints still exist. More important, from what companies have realized thanks to this pandemic, these are only going to increase. Two things that this pandemic has established is that gaming is here to stay, and virtual reality needs to be ramped up. This is evident from the ecosystem that gaming has created.

As for virtual reality, until the hardware does not become cheap, the uptake will be less. But as people adjust to the idea of webinars and virtual conferences, VR will become an essential part of our lives, be it for experiential shopping or gaming.

Once the systems are in place, new apps and ecosystems will develop to support the existing infrastructure. Until then you will have portable chargers.

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