A device being developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) could help retirement homes anticipate Covid-19 outbreaks before they happen.

The system, known as RF-ReID (radio-frequency re-identification), can measure a person’s vital signs like heart-rate and breathing without any physical contact, by analysing the wireless signal in the environment.

A new paper shows that the device can uniquely identify a person it has monitored before from a larger set of over 40 different individuals, meaning it could be used to continuously monitor the vital signs of multiple people in a group living setting. If the system notices that multiple individuals have symptoms like laboured breathing or reduced heart rates, it can alert care workers and encourage them to test for Covid-19.

RF-ReID works without collecting any private data from specific individuals.