Need contact tracing that respects privacy? Nodle offers both a wearable device and an open-source app

by Brianna Crandall — June 8, 2020 — To help stop the spread of the coronavirus as businesses start to reopen and the COVID-19 pandemic continues, internet of things (IoT) connectivity and security startup Nodle has announced a wearable contact-tracing device that is interoperable with its previously announced smartphone-based contact-tracing app. Both are touted as respecting privacy rights.

Nodle M1 smart wearable contact-tracing device

Nodle, along with nonprofit foundation Coalition Network, and leading global technology solutions provider Avnet, recently announced the creation of a new smart wearable contact-tracing device, the Nodle M1. The device tracks distance and buzzes employees to let them know when they are too close to one another.

The Nodle M1 can be clipped to an employee’s shirt or badge, or worn as a necklace. The device leverages parts of the open source Whisper Tracing Protocol and is interoperable with the Coalition app, the privacy-first contact tracing application developed by the Coalition Network.

Nodle M1 wearable contact-tracing device created with Avnet

The Nodle M1 wearable contact-tracing device created with Avnet buzzes when employees are too close; it is interoperable with the privacy-first Coalition app. Image courtesy Nodle

According to a recent Harvard University white paper and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security study cited by Nodle, privacy-preserving digital contact-tracing tools are considered force-multipliers to help scale manual tracing efforts, reduce the amount of testing needed, and slow the spread of COVID-19.

Employees spend a lot of time at work interacting with coworkers, making it easy for COVID-19 to spread, points out Nodle. And certain jobs, such as those in warehouses, factories, hospitals and food processing plants, aren’t often performed with a smartphone on hand, which makes receiving digital contact tracing notifications via smartphones difficult.

Micha Benoliel, Nodle’s co-founder and CEO, stated:

In recent conversations with government officials and large enterprises, we realized the dire need for privacy-preserving contact-tracing smart devices that can work independently, and without the need for a smartphone. We’ve already received interest from large enterprises in the US and Europe for several million units, and Avnet has the experience necessary to scale the production of these wearables in record time.

In response, Nodle began working with Avnet to create the Nodle M1, a privacy-first contact tracing solution for enterprises to better protect employees and visitors from exposure to COVID-19. The 5 cm (2 in.) device tracks distance and notifies employees with a buzz when they get too close to one another (less than 6 feet). The distance is determined with far better precision than a smartphone-based solution, and without the need for location.

The system also enables operational (human resources / HR) departments to alert anyone who may have been near an employee who has previously reported a COVID-19 infection. To ensure privacy and security, The Nodle M1 provides a rotating random identifier to prevent unauthorized third parties in tracking employees or understanding the size of a company’s labor force. The Nodle M1 is industrial-grade, IP67 waterproof, dust-proof and can live on a single battery charge for several days.

Bill Amelio, Avnet’s CEO, remarked:

The Nodle M1 will be a valuable tool for businesses as we continue the fight against COVID-19 because it enables employers to quickly notify anyone who may have potentially been exposed to the virus in the workplace. By leveraging the Avnet ecosystem to accelerate Nodle’s ability to deliver this device, we’re able to quickly bring to market a solution that prioritizes employee safety while enabling business continuity.

Shipments of the Nodle M1 device begin in October 2020. Pre-orders are available now.

Coalition app smartphone-based contact-tracing app

Coalition Network and Nodle launched the Coalition app in April, and soon afterwards announced the release of the app’s code. The Coalition app is a free, global, privacy-by-design contact-tracing app designed to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Coalition’s technology is available so governments and health organizations around the world can complement and scale manual contact tracing efforts.

The Coalition app enables community-driven contact tracing through a privacy-by-design approach. The app utilizes secure Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and cryptography to protect a user’s identity by generating random anonymous IDs.

Coalition’s Whisper Tracing, an open and privacy-first protocol, randomizes a user’s device identity and does not share identifiable information with the cloud. No personal data is ever asked for, collected or shared, says the company. View Coalition’s Whisper Tracing research paper, which was reviewed by Nodle peers and cryptographers from MIT, Stanford, USC and Oxford University.

How does it work?

After a user downloads the app and turns on Bluetooth, their phone becomes “aware” of other app users within a range of approximately 10 meters. The app records anonymous “encounters” with other Coalition app users nearby. These encounters are stored locally on the phone, using randomly generated IDs to preserve users’ privacy.

  • If a user declares that they’re sick, their anonymous random IDs from the previous two weeks are uploaded to the cloud.
  • The Coalition app automatically retrieves these “infected” IDs to compare the IDs on the phone to match if the user was in contact with an infected user.
  • If there’s a match, the Coalition app notifies the user, indicating the number of possible interactions with an infected user.
  • The app then recommends that the user check their symptoms and contact their health care provider with any concerns. The user controls whether they share any information with the network; Coalition never shares any personal information without users’ consent.

The Coalition app benefits from decades-long research and development (R&D) by the Nodle team in the space of decentralized wireless networks, mobile mesh, and secure identity management. CEO and Co-founder Micha Benoliel previously created FireChat, a peer-to-peer Bluetooth-based “off-the-grid” messaging technology that allowed for communication on planes, cruises, at festivals and during internet shutdowns (see Hong Kong’s 2014 Umbrella Revolution) and disaster-recovery situations where internet isn’t available.

Benoliel continued:

Our team has the technology to create this type of application with the utmost security and respect for privacy. Every feature is built with privacy and anonymity at its core. We believe the only way to stop COVID-19 is through massive cooperation and solidarity between citizens around the world who can do their part to protect themselves and their communities. We must work fast to put the right safeguards in place before we reopen society and put economies back on track.

The Whisper Tracing protocol is open, and the code from the apps has been open-sourced so the various tracing apps can communicate with each other and allow the community to make improvements for future use. The company notes that it is comparable to what Apple and Google announced, with the exception that Coalition has already released a working implementation of its protocol within the Coalition app. The Coalition team mentioned that they would add support for Apple and Google’s protocol if it can increase interoperability, the same way they are also adding support for Singapore’s TraceTogether app. is a privacy-first, decentralized IoT networking stack that enables for a multitude of applications, ranging from connecting and securing smart assets, to security certificates, to providing insights for consumer electronics manufacturers, enterprises, smart cities, and the finance industry. The Nodle Network is global, with 5 million daily active nodes and 100 million devices connected every week across 100+ countries. Nodle is backed by Blockchain Ventures, Blockchange, Bootstraplabs, Olymp Capital, Blockhead, Mark Pincus from Zynga, Pierre Andurand and Greg Kidd.

The Coalition Network nonprofit foundation includes, the French Government, the City of Berkeley (California), COVID Alliance, the Senegalese government, TCN Coalition and to name a few. Operating as a non-profit, Coalition already received interest from several foundations who wish to provide additional financial support to stop the spread of COVID-19. The growing number of partners include Berkeley Blockchain Xcelerator, NY Tech Alliance, TCN Coalition, COVID Alliance, and more.

The French government has entrusted Inria to lead their StopCovid project efforts to develop a mobile contact tracing app. Inria invited Coalition Network to join StopCovid, which includes a consortium of private and public organizations such as ANSSI, Capgemini, Dassault Systèmes, Inserm, Lunabee Studio, Orange, Santé Publique France, Withings, and many others, and just released its own version of a contact-tracing app.

The Coalition App is now available for Android in the Google Play Store and pending release for iOS in the App Store.