COVID-19 Drives Corrections Agencies, Governments to Investigate IoT

By Claire Swedberg

SuperCom is preparing to ramp up manufacturing as corrections departments around the world request support related to the early release of inmates, while two entities are piloting an Internet of Things-based ankle device and a secure smartphone designed for quarantine and virus containment.

Technology company SuperCom has shipped its COVID-19 quarantine-management solutions, designed to help manage citizen quarantining and home containment, for two international pilots. Meanwhile, some U.S. and international entities have been reaching out to SuperCom for a security-based system known as PureSecurity, which tracks inmates released early from incarceration, in order to reduce the virus's spread at their facilities.

SuperCom is a global company that sells Internet of Things (IoT) solutions using active RFID, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or a combination of technologies, along with a smartphone employing proprietary security software, as well as the solution's software, to help agencies view the locations of individuals in their homes or as they travel. The company has shipped its PureCare solution to two parties that it has declined to name. The second entity is located in Central America.

The PureSecurity solution

Recently, the firm began shipping its devices to a Central American country to be used with PureCare software as part of its own test of the solution. If the pilots go well, says Ordan Trabelsi, SuperCom's president for the Americas, that could lead to deployments to track individuals under quarantine. Both parties have asked to remain unnamed and have not provided specific details regarding how the technology would be used.

The PureCare solution, aimed at COVID-19 quarantine management, comprises several devices, including a waterproof ankle bracelet known as a PureTag, which weighs approximately 2 ounces and has a built-in BLE radio. A Samsung smartphone is loaded with SuperCom's PureCare software and can not only receive Bluetooth transmissions from the bracelet, but also link that device with the phone's own GPS- and WiFi-based data. This enables corrections officers to view location data in real time or historically, as well as communicate directly with an individual. Thus, the collected information tracks individual's locations and also helps users to understand their location restrictions.

The software enables customized settings, including geofencing, as well as alerts that can be issued to corrections officers if an individual strays from an authorized zone. PureMonitor, SuperCom's proprietary cloud-based software, receives data from each unit, Trabelsi says, then presents relevant information about location and status to the agencies. The solution has been used by corrections departments for years, though COVID-19 has posed a new challenge for this sector, and some agencies have thus approached SuperCom seeking a potential solution.

With the early release of a large numbers of prisoners comes the challenge of tracking them as they return to their homes and communities. The SuperCom technology already provides this type of support for agencies and governments around the world, Trabelsi says. Now, he adds, as COVID-19-related calls come in from governments and private entities regarding the management of released inmates, "The sheer quantities of units in discussion, for numerous countries in parallel, and with tight timelines, is higher than we have seen before or could have planned for."

The company, therefore, is in the process of increasing the production of ankle bracelets to meet anticipated orders. Traditionally, SuperCom provided national ID solutions for developing countries. In 2005, it began expanding into active RFID and providing solutions for the corrections industry.

Active RFID is typically used in cases for which an offender is under house arrest. A reader installed in a household can use received signal strength indicator (RSSI) data to track an individual's location, as well as identify if he or she leaves the home. The proprietary system employs multiple frequencies to capture PureTag transmissions, then forwards that data to the company's server via a Wi-Fi, cellular or Ethernet connection. The data can be captured and managed on the agency's own server or provided on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) basis.

Recently, the company reports, the solutions have been designed to track individuals under house arrest, or for alcohol or inmate monitoring, beyond the confines of a home or institution. The system employs a smartphone with a BLE connection to the bracelet, along wih GPS- and Wi-Fi-based location data. The phone communicates with the server via a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. The system enables users to set up geofencing, create parameters by which users must be at specific locations at specific times, and send SMS text messages and e-mail alerts.

The bracelet transmits encrypted information to the smartphone, which Trabelsi says "does the heavy lifting" of data processing, thereby reducing the need for power on the part of the bracelet. In fact, the bracelet comes with a battery with a two-year lifetime, eliminating the need to recharge it while it is still in use.

The solution is also being employed to protect victims of domestic violence. In such a scenario, an offender wearing the bracelet could be identified by the smartphone of his or her victim, if the offender were to come within range of that person. An alert can be prompted to let the offender, the victim and officers know this has happened. Moreover, the technology has been used for tracking high-risk patients, including those with Alzheimer's, in healthcare environments.

In 2018, the company won 18 new projects related to tracking offenders under house arrest, as well as for GPS tracking and related criminal justice services. The technology is designed to provide the high level of security demanded by the corrections industry, Trabelsi says. Utilizing secure phones, he explains, eliminates options for users to cheat the system. For instance, while some apps can be installed on a user's phone, that still leaves the phone vulnerable if the user fakes information or turns off the app. In addition to being secure, he says, the dedicated smartphone can use GPS for locating, as well as Wi-Fi when indoors, such as on trains or in tunnels.

SuperCom develops and manufactures the PureCom and PureTag devices in Israel, China and Europe. Trabelsi says the company is now being asked by agencies worldwide to provide thousands of units, which they require immediately. "We've started ramping up production to support these large projects," he states, "and we've been getting inquiries from all over the world." So far, corrections agencies in the United States have most commonly been leasing the solution and paying a fee (typically $4 a day) for the use of each bracelet and phone, as well as hosted software. Others may opt to buy the hardware and software and then integrate them into their existing solutions.

As inquiries come in for the corrections-based solution, Trabelsi reports, "We're ramping up to try to meet the surge in demand across the world. We can provide the first batch of units currently and continue providing more units in the following weeks." In the meantime, the company continues to provide active RFID-based in-house units. "We have several different architectures for different environments."