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Bellerose grad builds COVID robo-guard

COVIDIAN nominated for engineering prize
3010 Covidian sup
COVID GUARDIANS — Jarod Tracy (left), Mohamad Abou-Alwan, Jacob Marte, and Filip Radovic have been nominated for the ASET Capstone Project of the Year Award for their work on the COVIDIAN health-checking kiosk, shown at right. The device automatically evaluates people for COVID-19 symptoms. ASET/Photo

A former St. Albert student has been nominated for a provincial award for helping to build a robot doorman that screens guests for COVID-19.

The Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET) announced Oct. 12 that it had selected the COVIDIAN health self-assessment kiosk as one of the seven finalists for is annual Capstone Project of the Year Award.

The device was designed by former St. Albert resident and Bellerose graduate Jarod Tracy and his teammates Mohamad Abou-Alwan, Jacob Marte, and Filip Radovic as part of the biomedical engineering technologist program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Association CEO Barry Cavanaugh said the Capstone of the Year Award is meant to highlight some of the brilliant work shown by students at Alberta’s four technical colleges. Each school can nominate two capstone projects (the final projects engineering students must complete to graduate), with the team behind the winning project receiving a trophy and bragging rights.

Robo-doorman

Tracy said he came up with the idea for the COVIDIAN after a chat with his father, who is also a biomedical engineering technologist.

“He brought up the idea of an automatic check-in system,” Tracy said, one that would eliminate the need to have someone check you for COVID symptoms prior to entry into a building.

Tracy said he sketched out a rough plan for the device on his iPad that night and showed it to his teammates. Within six months, they had a working prototype built from off-the-shelf sensors, 3D-printed components, and an IKEA cabinet. One of their teachers suggested they name it the “COVIDIAN 9000,” which they shortened to COVIDIAN.

“If you want to mitigate the spread [of COVID], one of the biggest ways is to remove the human interaction in the first place,” Tracy said of the device’s concept.

The COVIDIAN consists of a computer screen on legs with sensors and a bottle of hand sanitizer strapped to it. Tracy said he got a lot of inspiration from self-check-out stands in grocery stores.

The device displays COVID-related safety tips until someone checks in by holding an ID card up to the device’s RFID scanner. Tracy said a commercial version of the COVIDIAN would likely use a QR code scanner instead to detect a person’s vaccine passport.

The device then instructs guests to lean forward for a temperature scan and photo. If the scan does not detect signs of a fever (a common COVID-19 symptom), the guest is directed to use the hand sanitizer and enter the building. Otherwise, the guest is told to go home and call Alberta Health Services. Anyone who tries to bypass the device by walking around it trips a motion sensor and an alarm, which will alert building officials. The device transmits the photo and scan results of guests to a server an administrator can access for contact-tracing purposes.

Tracy said the COVIDIAN could be positioned at retirement homes and airports to detect COVID without having to pay someone to watch a door all the time. Future versions could be equipped with mask dispensers and foot pedals for a hands-free way of answering a COVID symptoms questionnaire, or be reprogrammed to track other diseases.

Cavanaugh said the COVIDIAN is an innovative product that also serves a public good.

“It has a lot of potential as something that’s really useful to businesses and the public generally.”

Other nominees for this year’s award examined plastic fibres in concrete, anchor systems for solar panels, and ways to retrofit boilers to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Tracy said he and the team didn’t plan to commercialize the COVIDIAN, but could if someone made them an offer. He has since graduated from NAIT and now works for a medical equipment company in Calgary.

“Our entire team is pretty proud of what we accomplished,” he said.

The winner of the Capstone of the Year Award will be announced later this fall.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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