Humanity has a beautiful way of banding together in times of turmoil – the more fortunate helping the needy, the overworked, the disadvantaged. While it’s easy to get lost in the daily COVID-19 headlines and statistics, it’s important to recognize that there’s a lot of good going on in the world.
I’m proud to present Insperity’s new blog series, Good Business, showcasing companies that have adapted to meet the needs of this uncertain time and to give back to their communities. Let these stories be a beacon of compassion, hope and optimism that together we will persevere and work toward a brighter tomorrow. – Larry Shaffer, senior vice president of marketing and business development
One of the biggest public health challenges in the COVID-19 era is predicting where outbreaks will arise next.
A clever solution may have been born from the unlikeliest of places: tracking packages and shipments.
Public health officials and researchers need data, and lots of it, to identify potential hotspots and decide where to send resources. They also need this information to spot coronavirus trends and warn people about rising rates of infection in specific areas, so they can take extra precautions.
To help meet this challenge, CargoSense, a Reston, Virginia-based Internet of Things company and an Insperity client since 2013, did a quick pivot after the virus struck the U.S. The company decided to apply their groundbreaking logistics tracking technology to the collection and analysis of body temperature data, because fever is often an early symptom of COVID-19 infection.
Start with your area of expertise.
CargoSense helps logistics companies track shipments in transit to prevent loss and damage. That may not seem to present an obvious connection to public health research, but CargoSense Chief Operating Officer Mark Gardner explained that the approach they’ve developed can apply to other data-tracking goals.
“We want to be in a position to track anything in the supply chain. We do this by instrumenting shipments, which means you apply some sort of sensor to it. Depending on the sensor, you can get data that shows where things are, how they’re moving, maybe environmental conditions the shipment is subjected to, and so forth.”
Realizing that the cost of sensors, software and other equipment was a barrier for some logistics companies, CargoSense developed a low-cost alternative approach.
Instead of battery-powered sensors with transmitters that send data to a bridge – another piece of equipment that logistics companies would have to budget for and buy – CargoSense developed a way to use “a QR code that you print out.”
When customers attach the printed stickers to pallets and scan them with their smartphones, those pallets are logged in the tracking system. They can be re-scanned at each stage of the journey to monitor their progress.
CargoSense applied for a patent for their QR sensor-tracking application. While the application was pending, the pandemic struck.
Mine your network for expert feedback.
As the economy went into lockdown and people wondered where outbreaks would surface next, Gardner and other CargoSense executives thought their inexpensive approach to tracking could help gather health data. However, they wanted to be sure they were on the right track.
CargoSense investors – including one former White House staffer – were able to connect the company with health researchers at more than 20 institutions across the country, including Los Alamos National Laboratory and Carnegie Mellon University.
“We talked with researchers at think tanks and universities that meet with the CDC virtually every week and are doing different types of [data] modeling,” Gardner said. “They told us what they needed. And they thought this would be a good idea if we could pull it off.”
Solidify your novel solution.
CargoSense’s goal is to make it easy, secure and anonymous for volunteers to share their daily temperature readings with a database accessible by researchers, to create a real-time indicator of where COVID-19 is spreading.
To accomplish that goal, the company has designed an inexpensive way to crowdsource temperature readings across the U.S. (and in other countries). It’s available for free at TrackMyTemp.org.
Using TrackMyTemp is simple.
- First-time users share their temperature and age group, and request a unique, anonymous virtual thermometer.
- Then they bookmark their virtual thermometer on their web browser or scan a QR code to save their virtual thermometer link on their smartphone.
- After that quick setup, users can take their temperature each day with their physical thermometer and enter it into their virtual thermometer.
TrackMyTemp anonymizes the data by obscuring the user’s exact location and then adds the temperature to the dataset.
This simple process makes temperature tracking and data collection accessible to anyone with an inexpensive drugstore thermometer and internet access – no costly smartwatch, fitness tracking device or Bluetooth thermometer required.
Rally your resources to the task.
With a technology plan and input from experts, the company started its TrackMyTemp project March 16.
“We took the whole company offline, basically, from our other work and built TrackMyTemp in a week,” he said.
Part of the reason they set up TrackMyTemp as a website rather than building an app, Gardner said, was to get it to market faster – a key consideration when researchers need data as quickly as possible to protect public health.
In order to donate their patent-pending QR-code tracking technology to the project, CargoSense set up TrackMyTemp as a nonprofit foundation. Thanks to an experienced attorney, they navigated what’s typically a six-month process in one month.
CargoSense also called on their pop-up video production team, who created an explainer video for TrackMyTemp in two days, to show people how to use the app and how their privacy is protected.
TrackMyTemp also started outreach on social media to encourage people to volunteer. Gardner hopes that once the dataset is large enough, researchers will be able to use it in their models to guide public health planning.
Look for other ways your solution can help.
Gardner said that TrackMyTemp can be helpful beyond the pandemic.
For example, temperature tracking can help researchers model the spread of influenza cases during flu season. TrackMyTemp is also working on a version of its tool for businesses, to help them reopen and operate as safely as possible.
“Everyone’s worrying about, ‘what kind of protocol do I set up?’ Some businesses are taking temperatures at the door,” Gardner said. “What if we gave them a way to bulk enter those employee or patron temperatures? They could upload the anonymized data and generate reports for management or the local health department or their insurance company. And of course, that would also increase the amount of data we get that goes into the dataset” for public health research.
By finding ways to use their technology to respond to a crisis, getting expert input and devoting resources to responding fast, TrackMyTemp and CargoSense are an inspiring example of how business can benefit the entire community.
To see how other Insperity clients are making a difference in their communities – like how TrackMyTemp is working to spot coronavirus trends – please visit our Community Heroes page.