AFWERX Looks to Buy Thousands of COVID-19-Spotting Wearable Devices


The innovation unit is interested in accessing them in as quick as 60 days.

The Air Force’s innovation-pushing startup AFWERX aims to buy roughly 10,000 wearable devices that can monitor users’ bodies to pinpoint and tip off personnel of potential COVID-19 infections early on.

As the world continues to grapple with the pandemic—and areas this month are enduring spikes in cases—the subsidiary is planning to put the coronavirus-tracking apparatuses to use in collaboration with the Office of the Joint Surgeon General, according to a request for information published late Tuesday. 

It’s not the first time the Air Force considered turning to wearables to learn about employees’ health, and the effort also follows a range of other military-led pursuits to equip staff with portable devices to spot COVID-19. 

“The government is seeking commercially available wearable technologies that can provide insight into biometric data (ex: heart rate fluctuation, O2 levels, etc.) that can identify a potential COVID-19 infection early and alert the user through its user dashboard with warnings,” the RFI reads.

It notes that the work will be done in support of the Pandemic Case Management Suite, which it deems an operational requirement meant to boost the Air Force’s moves to combat the pandemic and inform and enhance key leaders’ choices around unit readiness. With so many workers in close quarters, U.S. military branches faced stark challenges early on to keep the virus from spreading across personnel. Since then, the Army has tapped FitBit for wearables to alert them to infections before symptoms surface, and also intends to fund other related prototypes. The Navy also revealed in July it was looking to institute a proximity tracking program that would use wearables to track employees’ nearness when working together. 

Devices to be potentially purchased through this latest solicitation should not trace wearers’ locations, or collect or store personally identifiable information, the RFI notes.

Interested entities that can provide commercial solutions are encouraged to share relevant product lists, white papers and brochures that highlight what they have to offer. AFWERX also asks respondents to weigh in on 9 specific questions about their tech, including whether the wearables can operate without Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, radio frequency, or GPS tracking, if the devices protect users’ privacy, whether foreign companies operate in the providers’ supply chains, if the units can all be provided in no more than 60 days—and more. 

A quick, 10-day deadline is set for submissions—they’re due Nov. 20.