Minority Spotlight

Loud-Hailer Pioneers Two-Way Bluetooth Contact and Facility Tracing Technology

Innovators at Loud-Hailer developed a patented two-way Bluetooth communication technology that enables greater employee and community health and safety, and promotes inclusion. The company is proof that finding solutions to today’s problems requires diverse perspectives on the endless possibilities.
— By Shaniqua Thomas

Loud-Hailer is a technology company founded in 2014 to specifically develop and utilize Bluetooth technology in new ways to improve the lives of people in the workplace and the community. Jack Chen is the CEO and co-founder of this company, proving once again that diverse perspectives lead to innovation.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, Loud-Hailer was implementing its patented two-way Bluetooth technology that enables cutting-edge contact and facility tracing and asset management. The pandemic created one more application opportunity to empower businesses, protect employees, enhance the lives of underserved communities, and help the economy recover. Pushing the limits of Bluetooth technology also enables hyper-local engagement which gives proximity content delivery information and blind offline messaging so people can communicate with the internet.

Remarkably the applications deployed so far are just the start of what the company’s brilliant engineers and co-founders have in store for long-term business sustainability.

Starting With Contract Tracing
Contract tracing and facility tracing are different applications.

“Contact tracing is a public health tool that’s been used since the early 20th century. It’s a way for people who had a communicable disease to see who they have come in contact with in order to notify those people who may have been exposed to the disease,” Chen explained.

“Contact tracing can be done in a couple of ways. Historically, we have relied on memory, and people’s memories are not good. Yet, the general goal of contact tracing is to notify people as soon as possible that they have been exposed, so they can seek appropriate health or take action rather than wait on them to develop symptoms and to quarantine themselves.”

The company’s new technology began with an assessment of what already existed in terms of technology, and how that technology could be leveraged in innovative ways.

The thought process basically went like this: People take their mobile phones everywhere and Bluetooth technology can detect people’s devices and the amount of time spent together. Therefore, letting mobile phones detect each other is a good proxy for contact tracing. Expanding on the idea led to the development of facility tracing as another application.

Maintaining Privacy

Of course, contract tracing is a major concern for employers who strive to keep their employees safe during the pandemic while looking ahead to the post-pandemic workplace. They are also concerned about maintaining employee privacy while collecting and delivering the data.

“We are a paid service. We don’t sell the data. We don’t generate any revenue by selling data to third-party brokers. The employer pays us for a service, and we use the data solely for the purpose of delivering that service,” Chen explained.

Data privacy rights remain a legal work in progress. The U.S. does not have a national scheme for managing data. Each state passes its own laws and regulations.

For example, California’s AB 685 requires employers who are notified of potential exposure to COVID-19 to provide notifications to employees within one business day of the notice. At the same time, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) gives consumers more control over the personal information that employers collect. Further complicating the situation is that employers are required to keep certain types of data for CAL-OSHA.

Loud-Hailer technology can help employers balance their multiple needs to keep employees informed and safe and meet reporting requirements. Should public health authorities request information, Loud-Hailer can automate the data gathering and reporting and respond to the agency quickly. AB 685 has a strict compliance requirement, so technology like that of Loud-Hailer becomes instrumental in both meeting state laws and notifying employees of their exposure to someone testing positive for COVID-19.

Some countries like China, Taiwan, and Canada have developed tools that fit population preferences and needs. Taiwan in particular has a phenomenal contact tracing program that enabled the country to avoid a lockdown.

Loud-Hailer plans on staying with servicing the private sector and is not currently pursuing doing business with public health agencies or governments. Chen points out that contact tracking is not the end-all as Korea discovered. It is one strategy supported by a suite of strategies, including rigorous testing, people quarantining and providing PPEs.

New Ways of Interacting With the World
With the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, the natural question is: What next?

Chen believes that the way people interact with the world has permanently changed. If anything good came out of the pandemic it was that innovative companies like Loud-Hailer have pioneered new ways of utilizing technology and Bluetooth that may not have developed until much later. That is what innovation is all about – looking at the world through the lens of opportunity and turning an idea into a practical reality.

“Because of technology and deploying Bluetooth, one of the areas we were working on before COVID were mobile ticketing, contactless payment, 3-D indoor GPS that can be used for wayfinding, and more. For example, in the longer-term, mobile ticketing will be a lot more prevalent than before. Curbside pickup, the way people touch things, etc. is what we are well positioned for,” Chen said.

“The businesses that cater to a lot of people and where technology and infrastructure is highly on demand is where we can provide enhanced services. I keep coming back to convention centers, but arenas, stadiums, and other large venues are where we can help not just make people’s experiences better say in seat ordering but also adjust to this new way of people behaving with mobile ordering.”

There are some outstanding examples of how the Loud-Hailer hyperlocal Bluetooth-connected mesh network (BUKI platform) has improved connectivity between businesses, facilities and users. The self-healing mesh networks can be created as an extension of the internet or can function without any internet connection. One is the 2018-209 installation at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Ohio. The mobile app developed by Loud-Hailer hosts specific content channels from local organizations and city departments, providing citywide information in a single streamlined source when the user is within the appropriate range of the entity.

Inclusion Through Technology

The Columbus2GO Connected City delivers other important benefits, like enhancing inclusion of people who have been historically excluded.

“Many visitors do not see the thousands of families of color and Spanish speaking isolated in the North End and Broadway neighborhoods suffering from generations of systemic racism, and as a result, poverty. The federal poverty rate citywide is 15 percent versus the North End neighborhood which stood at 45 percent pre-pandemic,” explained Sue Graves, assistant general manager at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

“The internet–connected devices we rely upon in this pandemic are a vital source of information for our students and parents to make the best decisions they can for the safety of their family. Yet, access to cable, internet, or an active smart phone is not guaranteed every month for many of our families, and the prerequisites for free and assistance programs can be challenging and still require the internet to submit a request,” she said.

“The commitment of Loud-Hailer Inc. to build a BUKI network in the North End and pilot a new use of the technology has been a lifeline for our families. The technology allows community partners to share, through the BUKI application, verified information about the COVID-19 pandemic; latest protocols issued by the state, city, and schools; as well as updates for the latest jobs, trainings, and community opportunities to connect. When so many things have changed, Loud-Hailer brought a positive change which helps to close the information gap for our most vulnerable families.”

The BUKI platform is a highly scalable global network providing hyperlocal information and communication services in any direction. It works outdoors, indoors, underground and through building floors. The BUKI platform offers endless applications. They include telling a driver where the car is parked; delivering information to conference attendees about speakers and events; filling food orders without using a slow Wi-Fi; traffic alerts; engaging customers in retail establishments; and facility and asset management.

Expanding into New Industries with Scalability
Facility management and asset management are Loud-Hailer’s rapidly growing applications. The current focus is on the food industry, including food growth and distribution; meat processing; and restaurant chains. The network enables employers to identify the location of people who are on devices to improve management.

Food is just one industry. There are so many other applications for the BUKI platform.

Think in terms of the applications for facilities tracing and asset management. Beyond the COVID-related suite of products, Loud-Hailer offers immediate solutions to employers like hotels, amusement parks, and casinos, enabling tracing of people within the facility to improve people management. Asset management involves creating zones at a facility.

“We could take a hotel and divide it into zones, and if you need someone to cover a specific area, you could choose people onsite and ask them to go to a particular location. Is there a fire alarm that needs to be addressed or a leak that needs repairing?” Chen said.

The Loud-Hailer system is scalable, too. Clients can buy and build what they need. Chen describes the system as being designed like LEGO bricks. Businesses can start small, and the system will grow with them. A construction company can add contract tracing to the floors as a project grows by adding floors or track construction equipment assigned to workers, for example. Loud-Hailer is also open to collaborations and is currently talking to a couple of global consulting companies.

Advocating for Diverse Innovation
Naturally, there are challenges, and one of them is the sell cycle. The company must carefully vet large customers to ensure a smooth installation and scalability.

Another challenge is that Loud-Hailer offers a unique technology and product. The company cannot simply give an employer SIC codes and let them look up current RFPs to see if there are any that are relevant.

“It’s really important for us to have advocates like Joy Wong, corporate vice president, supplier diversity/procurement at New York Life Insurance Co. and a board member of the New York & New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council, and Angela Guzman, director, supplier diversity Comcast NBCUniversal and chairperson of the board of directors at the New York & New Jersey Minority Supplier Development Council. The women are advocates of diverse businesses but also strive to bring technology-based innovation to their companies. They help Loud-Hailer educate other corporations about its services, important to the company’s growth,” Chen said.

Meeting a Dynamic Future

Loud-Hailer currently offers contact tracing, facilities tracing and asset management. There are plans for significant growth through the addition of new clients in the near future and the development of unique adaptable solutions in the coming months.

It is a dynamic future with unexpected developments, and it will take companies like Loud-Hailer to successfully respond.