- Staff at Olympics curling competitions are wearing thermometers that track their body temperatures in real time.
- If data shows their body temperatures changing abnormally, health officials will track them down and escort them away for more check-ups.
- It's part of the "black technology" in use at the games, which Beijing is using to showcase Chinese innovation.
Beijing is using the winter Olympics as an opportunity to showcase some of its most cutting-edge tech — and one such gadget, a Mickey Mouse-shaped "Band-Aid," is currently making its debut in the curling competitions.
The gadget in question is a temperature-tracking "Band-Aid" that's about the size of a US quarter and is being worn by staff and volunteers in the curling arena. The gadget adheres directly to the wearer's skin and transmits their temperature to a database. Officials are able to monitor the collected data in real time, poring through streams of live data to identify any abnormal changes in wearers' body temperatures.
The thermometer was developed by Shenzhen-based Refresh Inc. Wang Lei, sales and marketing director for Refresh, said the company's goal is to prevent a large-scale transmission of the coronavirus.
"These thermometers are like sentinels," Wang told Insider in a Chinese-language interview. "We're proud that our technology is helping in creating a clean and safe Olympics that can be seen by the world."
Tracking body temperatures in real time
Refresh took about a year to develop the thermometers and started using them on a large scale in June, when it helped municipal officials in 20 Chinese cities monitor quarantined persons, said Wang. To date, more than 100,000 pieces have been issued or sold to the public, he said.
Now, with the Olympics, the company is looking to track the body temperatures of multiple wearers across a wider venue.
"We think it's a leap in pandemic control measures," said Wang. "Where most temperature checks end when the person enters a venue, our thermometers continue to monitor body temperatures even within the venue, which can pick up any delayed or sudden onset of symptoms."
Staff and volunteers at the curling competitions, which are all held at the Beijing National Aquatics Center, are required to wear the thermometer throughout the Beijing Winter Olympics and the Paralympic Games. Wang was unable to disclose how many thermometers are currently in use at the Olympics due to a non-disclosure agreement. He added that only staff and volunteers are wearing the thermometer, not athletes, because competition rules dictate that athletes cannot wear any clothing or items that are not related to the game.
The organizing committee for the Beijing Winter Olympics did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
The thermometers are just under an inch in diameter and weigh about 0.07 ounces a piece. Their temperature-tracking sensors have a margin of error of 0.2 degrees Celsius (.36 degrees Fahrenheit), which is similar to mercury-based ones certified by Chinese authorities, Wang said. Batteries in the thermometers can run up to a month and can be replaced, he added.
To monitor the data, Refresh has set up base stations and workstations at the Beijing National Aquatics Center. Computer algorithms will pick up abnormal changes in body temperatures and alert onsite health officials, who will escort the person to a separate area for more check-ups, said Wang.
The thermometers are part of the wave of technological innovations, termed "black technology" by Chinese media, being used at the games. Robot waiters and an ice machine that can determine how cold or hard the ice surface can get also number among these innovations. Chinese officials and state media have repeatedly said the Olympics are a perfect opportunity to showcase Chinese innovation.
Wang said no coronavirus cases have been picked up by the thermometers at the Olympics so far.
A fine balance
Legal experts say the use of these thermometers highlights, once again, the fine balance governments and corporations have to strike between prioritizing personal privacy and the need to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The thermometers could impact wearers' personal privacy, said Singapore-based lawyer Shaun Leong, and there must be proper rules in place about their usage.
While some may argue that body temperatures are not enough to identify an individual and erode that person's privacy, Leong said the reality is that "that single data point can lead to a train of inquiry on a variety of private and personal matters, such as whether someone has been vaccinated, what kind of vaccine has the person selected, whether someone could be an anti-vaxxer."
Xia Hailong, a Shanghai-based lawyer focusing on data privacy issues, told Insider the data from the thermometers must be used in a very narrow, specific sense. He said Chinese law does have safeguards for personal data protection, and personal data from these thermometers will fall under the same framework.
"In the end, personal data protection needs to find a good balance between individuals', corporations', and governments' needs," he said.
"All this data has to be used only for the very specific purpose of preventing the spread of the virus at the venue, and only during curling competitions at the Beijing Games," Xia added.