Social Distancing at West Point Academy

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is welcomed with an honor cordon to the commencement ceremony for the West Point Military Academy in West Point, Ny., May 25, 2013. Hagel told the graduates that character and courage are the fundamentals of leadership and congratulated them on their commissioning into the United States Army. Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo (Released)

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A test to evaluate how commercial, wearable devices could help prevent community spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has been conducted in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Cadets are now wearing smartwatches that can track their proximity to other cadets in a military-led effort to show how the technology could prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Each cadet was issued a Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 that can transmit data daily to a server system that allows officials to track interactions between devices. “The devices that we are using do not track individuals. All we are collecting is information about what is the relationship between one device and another device in time and proximity,” said William Cohen, the chief technology officer and senior technology adviser to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology (ASAALT).

Cadets are being asked to wear the devices whenever possible, but they won’t have to wear them when they leave the campus for winter break, the test is limited strictly to West Point.

The effort is part of a “rising tide of the idea of using wearables in the Army for all sorts of things,” Cohen said.

“We are trying to show with the greatest amount of fidelity … what does this give you to use across the force,” he added. “There are a lot of different devices you can use, but how would you collect the data, how would you deal with the data in a way that gives you actional intel to actually do something with it — that’s the important part. For us, it’s creating the foundation of how you gather and use data, using wearables, that allows many others to work on, frankly, things that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

The Army is also working with the Navy on a similar study on two of its ships to see how close-quarters contact on a vessel is different from the West Point environment.

Once the West Point test is complete, it will feed the joint services with the best possible data. It’s not clear if the military has any interest in a broader smartwatch program, or if there’s any interest in pursuing a mandatory contact-tracing program, according to