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Architects of the Future: Taiwan's Startup Stories

This Taiwanese Company Had a Contact Tracing Solution Before Covid-19

2020/06/17 ,

News

Daphne K. Lee

Photo Credit: THLight

Daphne K. Lee

Daphne K. Lee is a journalist based in Taipei and an editor for The News Lens International. She's a perpetual traveler who finds story ideas while roaming the planet.

What you need to know

Demand for tracking devices has surged during Covid-19. Founders of Taiwan-based THLight Co. explain why.

Global supply chain disruptions from Covid-19, like any crisis, have presented companies with challenges and opportunities. The potential business interruption from a virus outbreak has created a new market for an old tracking device from THLight Co., a Taiwan-based company.

A beacon is a small device that can track a user’s location on a micro-level. First introduced by Apple in 2013, beacon technology was meant to advance proximity marketing, which enables accurate location detection of a customer for retailers to time and target their advertisements. Airports and airlines have also used beacons to improve operational efficiency

THLight, an industry leader in positioning technology, recently found new purposes beyond marketing and location tracking for its beacon products. The new THLight beacon devices are small enough to attach to an employee’s work badge. Local factories in Taiwan are using this technology for contact history tracing to minimize the risk of a total shutdown in case of coronavirus infections. 

If an employee is infected, businesses can quickly analyze this employee’s contact history with the others. The tracking would allow employers to identify employees who need to be tested and areas that need to be disinfected, preventing a factory-wide quarantine. 

“This idea came to me when a friend of mine was worried about the potential losses of shutting down his company, which has 6-7,000 employees,” said CJ Chi, co-founder and CEO of THLight. 

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Photo Credit: THLight
THLight's user interface for the contract history tracing webpage

Supply chain strain has been a major threat to the global economy amid Covid-19. Initially, tech giants like Apple and Nintendo have suffered from supply shortages due to production halts. In the United States, meat processing plant closures are disrupting the food supply chain. Yet these forced suspensions might be avoidable in the future if the factories can properly track each employee’s contact history within the workplace.

Prior to the pandemic, THLight’s beacon technology was already used nationwide in Taiwan. For instance, Taipei Main Station, known for its labyrinth-like layout, partnered with THLight to offer an indoor map for travelers to position themselves within the station. 

“Originally, instead of workers, we targeted factory inventory and hospital systems,” Chi told The News Lens

One of THLight’s clients is a textile factory that uses beacon to keep track of its massive inventory and manufacturing process. MacKay Memorial Hospital, one of Taiwan’s largest medical centers, also employs beacon technology to speed up its handling of patients who come in for a comprehensive health check. 

Having founded THLight in 2010, Chi still keeps the mentality of a startup owner and tries to adapt to the rapidly changing market. “It would be odd to call ourselves a startup after 10 years, but my spirit hasn’t changed much,” Chi said. “This means we’re still innovating and changing our work environment and operation models.” 

Taiwan’s local media often notes Chi’s background as an engineer at Asus, where his desk was placed near the former CEO, Jerry Shen. The two have formed a strategic partnership in April to accelerate the production of contract tracing beacons as the orders multiplied. 

Spencer Shih, co-founder and business director of THLight, told The News Lens that the company has sold its beacon solution to at least five or six domestic factories since the onset of the pandemic. The Taiwan-based beacon developer is also in talks with Microsoft and factories based mainly in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. 

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Photo Credit: THLight
From left to right: Spencer Shih, CJ Chi, Jerry Shen

“Taiwan’s success in epidemic prevention has been a bonus in our product pitch,” Shih said, adding that THLight Beacon was only used to monitor home quarantine in a few small districts since there was never a large outbreak in Taiwan. 

Shih admitted that Taiwan’s market is limited and the country’s business infrastructure is not connected with the rest of the world. “When it comes to international expansion, Taiwan's startups are slower than those in global cities like Hong Kong. We would have to actively attend tech conferences overseas and attract foreign investors and buyers,” he said. 

As some workplaces are adopting social distancing measures for returning employees, privacy concerns have arisen. Workplace monitoring devices can be exploited to record employees’ bathroom breaks and habits. Compromises between workplace privacy and employee safety may be the next regulatory debate as the world recovers from the pandemic.

The THLight team is racing to catch the surging demand on the international market as countries are starting to ease coronavirus restrictions, such as developing an English website.

“Our dream client is Elon Musk,” Shih said jokingly.



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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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