Ordinary Bluetooth devices cannot be used in processing plants containing flammable substances, so this solution may answer industrial needs in future.

In the current pandemic, contact tracing devices running on the Bluetooth protocol can be used to track the movements of people within large work environments.

However, one unique scenario where such devices are not safe to use is in processing plants or other manufacturing premises where flammable gases are present. One example is the Shell refinery in Pulau Bukom in Singapore.

Now, a pilot project between Shell Singapore and a security engineering company is set to overcome the hurdle—with a specially-modified device that runs on Bluetooth Low Energy. If the pilot is successful, the enhancements can be marketed to live process plant environments in Singapore and worldwide.

The device, dubbed the BluePass, is a small and light wearable contact tracing device that exchanges proximity information with other BluePass devices or interoperable devices via Bluetooth Low Energy technology. It stores that information for a stipulated period for contact tracing purposes, and is designed to safeguard user privacy by not tracking location information.

Rugged and tamper-proof

Shell has evaluated the BluePass devices that have been modified for safe use at process areas in the manufacturing site at Pulau Bukom using International Electrotechnical Commission standards commonly referenced by process industry companies worldwide, as well as guidance from Engineering Equipment and Materials Users Association and the Energy Institute.

The evaluations included the ruggedness of the body of the modified BluePass device, protection from user tampering or maltreatment; the power source and size of the battery; as well as the energy level transmitted during use. A total of 4,000 pieces of BluePass will be distributed for the pilot program, which is expected to run until March 2021.

According to Hugues Bourgogne, the firm’s Vice President for Manufacturing in Singapore & Philippines and General Manager of Bukom: “Currently the contact tracing of individuals within the process areas can take hours, which slows down the process of identifying and isolating close contacts. The enablement of prompt contact tracing for process industry workers in Singapore will substantially mitigate the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the community. Through this pilot, we are glad that Shell can play a role in enabling Singapore’s economic activities to ramp up while keeping our workers safe.”

Said Dr Antony Ng, CEO, D’Crypt—the security engineering firm in the project: “Shell’s evaluation of BluePass gives us the confidence to conduct further pilots of the device for use in real-world production environments. We hope this will contribute to a broad adoption of contact tracing devices in the process sector, dramatically improving Singapore and the world’s COVID-19 security.”