Abundance of Caution Final
Last updated: May 7, 2020
Name: Daniel Fries
Title: An Abundance of Caution
An Abundance of Caution is a collection of smart devices designed to be incorporated into the daily lives of members of a household under isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. The self-imposed surveillance suite will collect as much data as possible about the new habits of their users with the goal of discovering how fear and anxiety produced by pandemic conditions might be in turns exacerbated or mollified by the technology we bring into the most intimate spaces. Individual and corporate analysis of the data will provide insights at the household and global scales.
Any apartment in which the occupants are attempting to limit their exposure and the exposure of others by staying home and practicing social distancing. For now, mine.
In March 2020, the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, led cities across America to shut down their public spheres. Globally, we began to scrounge for tools that would help us to survive and thrive in the fight against this incurable and deadly illness. Some of these tools were repurposed from previous disease-fighting efforts or from other spheres of innovation within our economy. The standards of the internet and of the connected user are changing, and will have changed dramatically when a vaccine has been developed for this particular pandemic. Preparedness and the expectation of readiness for Next Time will be just one of many ways our smart technology sphere will have to change in order to innovate in the post-COVID-19 world.
As we consume more and more virus-related information on the web, digital publications walk a difficult line: their information on and coverage of the pandemic is extremely valuable now that it feels as though lives could depend on it, but to charge for such information—if it really is life and death—could be immoral or at the very least questionable. On the other hand, the opportunity the virus provides to make content conditionally and temporarily free is perhaps a powerful marketing tool. If a concerned reader becomes a regular reader of a publication with a temporary paywall relaxation, will that reader pay for a subscription if given the option when the relaxation period is over?
Presumably, many new readers will ask this question of themselves as the number of new cases and popular concern about the pandemic subside. The Technology Industry, however, must have a different outlook. As the reduction of the paywall asserts the indispensability of the information the paper provides, innovators in smart technology, device design, and the Internet of Things must find a similar way to define and re-define themselves as necessary parts of our health infrastructure.
Kinsa Inc is a health technology company that received $9.6M in venture capital in 2014 and developed a number of different models of smart thermometers. Customers use their devices with smartphones and connect their health data to the internet to track their own health and to gain insight about local trends in disease. This may have been valuable to some communities before: parents who want information about diseases their children might be exposed to at school, for example, but Kinsa also provided forum access. In small communities, and indeed in most communities, word-of-mouth is powerful enough to enable parents to get the information they need. In 2020, however, Kinsa has valuable data on the spread of the novel coronavirus. They have national data for temperatures and as a result may be able to compare the present information to past data and determine where in the country fevers may be more elevated than usual. Kinsa has since opened their data to the public, and as a result have gained a greater visible profile, noticed by the press and the public as a key tool—a necessity, rather than as a curiosity or a novelty smart product. Kinsa is bringing valuable information and fever data straight from customers’ ears and mouths to the general public.
The novel coronavirus has also offered the difficult challenge of leveraging the network of phones and smart devices in the country to create a timeline for contacts and the spread of the disease without appearing to overstep into the intimate private lives of users. Somewhere, the line of privacy has been nudged by the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, and it has become necessary for the field of smart technology to take advantage of the datasets that have been constructed in order to justify their construction. For a smart technology company that successfully accomplishes this process, the trust afforded by the public creates a responsibility to reach into the future of data—the innovators who make this leap will be demanded by the market and the consumer to continue their efforts and more, and will be set the task of building a web of information that customers and users live inside of and weave of their own daily interactions with their devices, with each other, and with themselves.
Hundreds of events have been cancelled in “an abundance of caution”—potentially because an admission of fear of the pandemic represents an exposure to liability or because an admission of fear of the loss of business would itself be damaging to business. If caution has truly become abundant, allow it to be a resource. If there is an oversupply of caution, allow caution to be demanded until balance has reasserted itself within the space. This abundance can act as a possibility space that must be explored—a potential site of inspiration and development.
56 days into my own lockdown period, the pandemic is slowing down in New York City, but it’s picking up steam nationally. Without the testing and tracing we need to isolate and treat the virus, it’s likely to spike again here when restrictions loosen. It’s as important as it has ever been to wash our hands and not touch our faces, but I’m finding it hard to stay focused and engaged. I’m reading statistics less often. Maybe one other angle for this project is to try to keep these physical things ubiquitous, to remind me at intervals (as I wash my hands, as I move from one room to the next) that I need to keep it up. Or, they highlight how absurd it is to hang our hopes on one person at a time, when what we really need is massive structural support in the form of unemployment relief, widely-available testing, and free treatment. No hackathon, no “Manhattan Project” for a cure is going to provide the solutions Americans need in the immediate present.
Project Format & Sketches:
(a ) Occupant Interval Temperature Tracker
The OITT can be implemented in two ways. In Version 1 (pictured right), a thermometer is affixed to the wall at any door in the dwelling: between the inside and the outside, as well as between the bedroom and the living room, or the bathroom and the kitchen. A user wishing to move from one room to another approaches the device. With the encoder, the user selects themselves from the list of occupants and presses the button to start the thermometer. Using a safe and sanitary procedure, they place the stationary thermometer inside their mouth. Their temperature is displayed on the screen and logged on a local secure server. At this point, the device will beep, either cheerfully (as if to say “Proceed!”), worriedly (“Could this be a fever?”), or chaotically (“This is a fever!”).
In Version 2 (pictured left), one OITT is produced per occupant, and the device is worn affixed to the forehead. Similar products exist, primarily for parents to use on their potentially febrile infants. In this application, occupants of all ages can use the adjustable strap to wear a thermometer that regularly emits Bluetooth Low-Energy signals to a phone or other device for a granular display of body temperature data.
(b ) Hand Wash Clock and Tracker
Social media and public health campaigns have been incredibly effective in improving the frequency of hand washing in the populace and the thoroughness thereof. The recommended duration of twenty seconds is well-documented and perhaps even well adhered-to by the general public. The HWCT is very straightforward. A user washes their hands, bumping the button once when they begin and once when they finish. The clock will count up from zero to twenty seconds (or beyond if need be) and at the second bumping will save the data to a secure server. Duration of hand washings and frequency will be stored in the database and used as the users see fit to gauge their preparedness and commitment to the hand washing regimen going forward. The clock is additionally useful for children and those who haven’t timed their “Happy Birthday” singing as well as they think they have.
(c ) Mask Use and Essential Travel Tracker
The recommendations are in: masks are key for preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus. It is also important as ever for users who can to limit their exposure to the world outside their homes and apartments, as especially in dense urban environments, it can be difficult to maintain social distancing. The MUETT (pictured left) addresses this issue. The mask hook will store each occupant’s mask by the door (where it is additionally less likely to contaminate other surfaces within the dwelling), and the weight of the mask will depress a button underneath the hook. When the mask is lifted, so is the button, and a secure server is notified as to whose mask is now being worn, and thus, who is leaving the dwelling, and for how long.
(d ) Occupant Location and Surface Contact Tracker
While the primary concern for a user may be that they will carry the virus from the outside into their dwelling, an intervention can still take place within the dwelling to prevent transmission from one occupant to another. An occupant who goes outside and returns might contaminate a surface within the apartment, or they might become infected and, while asymptomatic, transmit the virus to those who live with them. The OLSCT is one such intervention. Through the use of one or many depth-sensing cameras, the general location of each occupant within the dwelling can be assessed. The surfaces contacted by each occupants’ appendages can be catalogued and labeled. Giving the user access to this kind of information affords them a new awareness of the conditions within their home.