Video: KSAT 12 6 O’Clock News, April 14, 2020. Source: Quantum Materials.
By Brent Wistrom
Pete Harris remembers his last big social outing quiet well. As is the case for many of us, it was a couple months ago in February. Pre-pandemic.
Harris was hanging out with one hundred plus people gathered in south Austin at the MedToMarket accelerator and coworking space. As executive director of the Austin Blockchain Collective, he was stoked to help lead a conference with fresh research from Dell Medical School and industry speakers including IBM’s global blockchain leader speaking on cutting edge topics.
“Frankly, it was bloody amazing,” he recalled, now on a Zoom call with a reporter.
The technologists at the conference were focused on the intersection of blockchain technology and health care — and the need to give people more control over their personal health data.
Coronavirus wasn’t yet part of our moment-to-moment lives, though Harris recalls a few conference goers saying coronavirus could soon be a problem in the United States.
A week or so later, SXSW was canceled. Then, almost everything came screeching to a halt.
A lot has changed. But blockchain remains at the forefront of technologies that might help us get through the COVID-19 pandemic, and it could play a vital role in how we slowly and carefully get back to work and meeting with friends and colleagues.
Through platforms and apps developed by mainstream companies like IBM, blockchain has largely been proven out and has slowly entered our daily lives. At its base level, it provides a secure way to verify information while retaining privacy — i.e. preventing it from being used and abused like much of the data we’ve shared via social media.
And that means blockchain could be an attractive option in the weeks and months to come as COVID-19 test results help us understand and verify, to a degree, how safe it is to be around each other at work or in social settings.
That’s why Harris is excited about Quantum Materials Corp, a nanotechnology and blockchain company based south of Austin in San Marcos and a member of the Austin Blockchain Collective.
Quantum Materials is working on so-called immunization passports that would help people demonstrate they’re virus free and can work or socialize in some formats with some degree of certainty. And it can do so with a minimal degree of sharing personal and medical data that could be reused and resold like so much of our other personal data is.
“There’s a tremendous need there,” Harris said.
But, of course, nothing is 100% until a vaccine arrives. What Quantum Materials’ QDX HealthID Immunization Passport provides is a degree of certainty and robust privacy, said CEO Stephen B. Squires.
Quantum Materials was founded in 2007, an early comer to the field of the tiny superconductor particles we call quantum dots, which can be used in tracking and tracing in the supply chain. More recently, the company acquired Capstan, a blockchain startup led by technologist Jay Williams, who is known for leading the Austin Forum on Technology and Society conversations each month.
With that, the team built the QDX Ledger blockchain platform over the past year to tie together the digital ledger aspects of blockchain with the physical tracking capabilities of nanotechnology and quantum dots.
As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Europe, a close associate in the U.K. who works with the World Nano Foundation and is on the pandemic council in the U.K. reached out to Squires about finding ways to track and trace test kits and test results.
“So we immediately took our platform and started doing what was necessary to modify it,” Squires said.
The resulting HealthID product that verifies testing kits is about to begin beta testing, and Squires said the company is working with several test kit companies and health care providers to have their kits validated through the new system. The HealthID app is slated to fully launch June 1.
At first, this type of tech would likely be used by government agencies to help assess risk to essential employees and verify their testing status. But it — or something like it — may be in the future for many of us as companies seek to bring workers back to warehouses, manufacturing facilities and offices.
Quantum Materials’ approach for consumers uses an app-based interface that provides a green, yellow or red indicator, as well as a QR code that can be scanned.
It tracks several methods of authenticating people being tested, who administered said tests and the test kits themselves. And that could be vital when considering whether someone could re-enter the workforce with a degree of certainty they aren’t likely to further spread the coronavirus.
“You want to be able to know that if your employer is checking you that they’re checking everybody and that then you know you’re returning to work in an environment that’s relatively safe,” Squires said.
Nothing is 100% safe right now, and top federal officials have warned that some of the test kits being marketed in the U.S. could be faulty.
Squires said he expects that as testing becomes more widespread, many people will be tested twice concurrently to improve accuracy. Meanwhile, questions remain about whether those who have recovered from COVID-19 will be immune and, if so, for how long and what kind of testing will be needed to verify that.
“I don’t think we’re going to get around having to do testing on a regular basis probably for the next year, and I think that, although we’re all anxious to get back to work, I think if we do it too quickly without some type of a foundation underpinning it, we’re going to end up with a second wave,” he said. “It’s almost inevitable. You can almost see the writing on the wall. I think that testing and tracking is going to be so important for us to be able to get people returning to work in safe environments.”
Already, companies including Amazon and General Motors are trying to find ways to test employees to help bring them back to work. But that’s happening as there aren’t enough tests in many locations for frontline health workers and caretakers. For many, corporate testing sites could be part of the near future.
Squires said a lot of how we return to work and prove we’re safe to be around will likely be shaped by new legislation. While in recent years there’s been some push back against vaccines, he said he expects that when a coronavirus vaccine does emerge, there will be a push to ensure people can show they’ve been vaccinated. But how we do that — and what information and freedoms we may give up in the process — could have long-term consequences.
“Personally, I hope that people don’t allow their fear and their motivation to get back to work to lead them to adopt a platform that’s going to expose their personal data, particularly their health data, even more,” he said. “That’s my big concern. I’ve seen this happen after 9/11, people get very complacent about their civil liberties and give up everything because of fear. I’m just hopeful that people don’t do that this time.”
Source: Austin Inno