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LSU ECE Professor Develops Contact-Tracing Mobile App

LSU Electrical & Computer Engineering Professor Lu Peng and a team of ECE undergraduate and graduate students have developed a COVID-19 contact-tracing mobile app that notifies the user if he or she has come into contact with someone who has recently tested positive for the virus.

The GeauxTrace app—part of an $888,642 grant from the National Institutes of Health that also encompasses four other virus-related projects—utilizes a smartphone’s Bluetooth signal strength to estimate distance from other smartphones using the app, building a contact map. If a user on the map reports as positive for the virus, other users who were in the proximity of the affected person will be notified. However, no identities are shared.

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To utilize the app, individuals submit no personal information, meaning no phone numbers or personal email addresses are required to register and report. Rather, the app generates a random number from the smartphone as an ID and broadcasts it in the background. This decentralized technique protects an individual’s privacy and the system from being hacked.

“My group has been working on Blockchain-related projects for a few years,” Peng said. Last year, [during the COVID-19 pandemic], I was thinking of using Blockchain, which can highly encrypt user data and protect against hacking to protect user privacy. [In the GeauxTrace app] we record the following items—time, duration, contact distance, and COVID status, positive or negative.

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“My app has been tested successfully by more than 100 volunteers. Basically, our research work has been done. The main purpose [in releasing] the app is to mitigate the spread of the virus and help the community.”

Peng is joined on the project by students Abbas Al-Hassani, Ross Browning, Tianqing Feng, William Frischhertz, Guan Lian, Tao Lu, John Ner, Fang Qi, and Christopher Vasquez. Al-Hassani, Browning, Frischhertz, and Lian graduated in Spring 2021.

The GeauxTrace app is available for Android users in the Google Play store and will be available soon for Apple devices.

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[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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