Sports

Here's the device the NFL and NBA are using for coronavirus contact tracing and social distancing

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Key Points
  • The NFL will be using Kinexon's SafeZone tag for contact tracing and social distancing when training camp kicks off.
  • The NBA has been using the device at its "bubble" campus in Orlando as well.
  • The SafeZone tag alerts users when they break social distancing rules and monitors who they are in close contact with.
  • The company said the data is anonymous to protect player's privacy. 
Kinexon's wearable sensor alerts users when social distancing has been comprised. It also helps trace chains of infection.
Source: Kinexon

As NFL players arrive at training camp this week, each person will be given a wearable smart tag that will monitor the physical distance of their interactions and for how long they occur.

Inside the NBA's bubble, the sound of beeping indicating social distancing has been compromised, has become part of the new normal.

Kinexon's SafeZone tags are the latest tool the NBA and NFL are using to monitor social distancing and also to provide contact tracing in the event a player tests positive. It's all part of the new reality as sports leagues are investing their money and resources into tools to allow them to return to action safely. 

The German-based company, has been working with more than 100 professional sports teams for years on performance tracking, but it decided to pivot once coronavirus struck.

"When the pandemic started, instead of tracking the location of things of people or assets…we slightly modified our technology to get the information on how far someone is from someone else," said Mehdi Bentanfous, CEO of Kinexon.

Unlike their performance tracking devices, which provides valuable insights to teams through precise location and movement tracking, SafeZone is only measuring the proximity between people and the length of time interactions occur.

As training is underway in the Orlando bubble, the NBA made these devices available to players, however it is only mandatory for league officials and members of the media. In its safety and protocols document obtained by CNBC, the NBA assures players the devices will not be used to access GPS location.

The half-ounce tag contains a proximity sensor and can be worn as a wristband, as an ID badge or embedded into equipement for games and practice. It's about the size of an Apple AirPods case

When a player or staff member comes within six feet of another person, a red light will appear as a warning signal. After five seconds, an audible alarm will be emitted from the device, alerting the wearers that they need to distance themselves.

Kinexon said that the settings can be customized by each client to adjust to their desired physical distance and proximity warning time.

Meanwhile, the NFL is using Kinexon's tags for mandatory contact tracing. In the Covid-19 policies and procedures the league provided players and clubs, it says that proximity recording devices will be used to identify in-game close contacts. The NFL said that during team activities, practice and team travel, the recording devices must be worn.

It's not just players. Everyone in the NFL team environment will wear the devices on a daily basis. When they check-in each day, they'll receive a device. They then return the device at the end of each day so its data can be downloaded and the device can be disinfected.

The idea behind it is simple. In the event a player tests positive, there is a now a record of everyone that they have been in contact with and for how long.

Kinexon's safe tag can be worn in an ID holder or on your wrist similar to a watch.
Source: Kinexon

Kinexon said that each sensor is registered as a unique ID, rather than a specific person. Contact tracing using the information from the devices will be conducted by IQVIA, an independent third-party company that works with the NFL on health and safety-related data.

Once a positive case is identified, IQVIA will identify employees and players who had close contact with an infected individual to let them know they need additional monitoring and testing. They will then follow the protocols for return that the NFL has laid out.

Kinexon said that more than 25,000 people have used the SafeZone product for contact tracing and social distancing. In addition to the NBA and NFL, the company has worked closely with European soccer leagues and were successful in helping the Bundesliga DFL and BBL in Germany restart and finish their seasons safely. 

When it comes to cost, Bentanfous said it depends on quantity and how quickly businesses need them.  

The Kinexon tag is being used by professional sports to help with social distancing and contact tracing.
Source: Kinexon

It's not just sports teams and leagues, but Kinexon's clients also include one of the largest food companies in the world, and a top three company in the world is currently testing Safezone. In Europe, clients include Henkel, Oerlikon and Personio.

"Currently, we are busy at 150% rather than 100% with all the projects that we're working on," said Bentanfous. "The big companies, or even the leagues, they see the necessity of physical distancing being not only now, but it's going to be over a certain period of time, that maybe goes beyond 2020, depending on if we have a second wave," he said.