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Want to feel Covid-safe at work? There's an app for that

October 24, 2020

The first apps and wearables to help post-pandemic workers are coming online

Around the world, apps and technology are being developed to make life easier in the ‘new normal’ as the global population continues to grapple with the spread of coronavirus.

For those using public transport, setting up in new Covid-friendly offices, or just trying to get out and relax, new apps are promising to take the worry out of the pandemic.

Tech is helping to spot the crowds we want to avoid, adapting the venues we want to visit and making workplaces safer for everyone from industrial giants to small offices.

Google has an app, so far only available on a limited selection of newer Android phones and using the Chrome browser, that throws a virtual protective two-metre ring around users.

Users can see when someone is close to breaking their two-metre bubble.

The device uses augmented reality to show the social exclusion zone border on the user's phone or laptop.

It is hoped the software will help people realise how close a healthy distance is and requires colleagues having bluetooth turned on.

Holovis has been working with attractions and entertainment venues like zoos and museums to develop its Crowd Solo app.

As well as proximity alerts, venues can get a real-time view of guests' movement and see where crowds might form.

Visitors download the app on which they can book time at attractions like theme park rides or a zoo's snake room, and they can also see a state-of-the-park map showing where the crowds are building and where it is quieter.

In the UK, a social distancing app called Mind The Gap helps keep rail staff socially distant.

Mind The Gap sends a push alert and warning tone when someone enters the protected social distance space.

It is being tested by Network Rail, which owns most of the country's rail infrastructure.

'My mind has conditioned itself to pay attention and move,' said Network Rail's director of safety task force, Nick Millington.

'You hear the ringtone, or you hear a text tone, you know what it is. Well, now I know what this is.'

The word 'caution' also appears on the phone's screen.

The app, working on bluetooth, is not yet available on Apple or Google's stores but Hack Partners hope that will change soon.

The Distanca is launching in the next couple of weeks as a watch, lanyard or pager.

It will use ultra wideband to ensure social distancing and will emit a beep when personal space is encroached.

Company founder Michael Hobbs says ultra wideband was chosen for accuracy over bluetooth technology, which is more commonly available.

A similar product already on the market is SafeDistance, created by Lopos, a spin-off company from Ghent University in Belgium, which has energy giant EDF and Toyota among its customers.

It is worn like an ID card on a lanyard or attached to a belt and sets off a warning sound when you get too close to your colleagues.

The wearable device uses ultra wideband for location accuracy and already has a number of companies on board – mostly petrochemical, pharmaceutical and large electronics companies where working from home was not possible.

The company is also focusing on widening its customer base.

Crowdless uses Google Maps and Places and crowdsourced data to track mobile phone movements and work out which places are busy.

The project by UK start-up Lanterne, with help from the European Space Agency, was first developed to help people move safely in conflict zones.

Crowdless has global coverage and gives users real-time information on local shopping trips and restaurants, with users also giving immediate feedback.

Blackline has a walkie-talkie-sized device that tracks workers using GPS and can analyse which staff have been in close contact, potentially helping to track infection routes if an employee contracts coronavirus.

It also finds helping site locations where employees work in close proximity to one another.

Estimote has taken its panic button, used by hotel staff, and is turning it into a close-contact tracing system.

It sends out a warning when employees enter areas that are off-limits or break social distancing rules, and can help track down close contacts when a person falls ill.


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