Social-distancing smart watches and plexiglass beach boxes: Old and new technologies are being employed to keep people apart


Social-distancing smart watches and plexiglass beach boxes: Old and new technologies are being employed to keep people apart

As countries emerge from lockdowns there is a worldwide rush to fit shops, offices, and public places with the tools needed to enforce social distancing.

Sales of plexiglass screens have surged and technologies from social distancing wristbands to scanners tracking the capacity of rooms are in high demand as people look for safe routes out of lockdown.

The U.K. government announced on Monday that lockdown measures would further ease from the beginning of June, opening car showrooms, outdoor markets, and all shops later in the month. Meanwhile all 50 U.S. states have begun reopening leaving businesses looking at measures to keep workers and customers safe.

While high-tech solutions are proving popular, simple see-through plastic sheets have seen surging sales and plexiglass sheet manufacturers have reported demand rocketing.

Supermarkets, cinemas and even airplanes are introducing plastic sheets to keep customers and employees apart.

An Italian company made headlines in April when it unveiled plans for plastic booths on beaches in which families could sunbathe while socially distanced.

A man and a woman demonstrate dining under a plastic shield Wednesday, May 27, 2020 in a restaurant of Paris.


Associated Press

German-based Röhm, which produces Plexiglas branded plastic sheets, said from mid-March its demand had been as much as 12 times higher than normal. Schweiter Technologies
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owned competitor Perspex said it has tripled production to meet the unprecedented demand fuelled by coronavirus.

Many restaurants are relying on plastic screens to protect customers, but some have gone further to ensure social distancing remains possible, blocking seats with stylish mannequins or making customers don pool noodle headgear to keep them apart.

Read: Mannequin mates, ‘noodle’ hats and greenhouse get-togethers: creative approaches to social distancing in restaurant settings

Higher-tech social distancing solutions include wearable Fitbit-like gadgets that communicate with each other and vibrate if two users come too close.

Samsung
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has combined its Galaxy smart watches with an app promising to “take the guesswork out of social distancing.” A similar solution is on offer from Belgian-based Rombit and U.K.-based Tharsus’s Bump, which will allow workers to return to offices and construction sites minimizing the risk of contracting coronavirus.

Bump is worn as a lanyard, which Tharsus said makes it more accurate and safer as two people with outstretched arms could breach social distancing rules without a wristwatch noticing.

Bump hangs around an employees neck and alerts wearers when they are breaching social distancing guidelines


Tharsus

A spokesperson told MarketWatch it has seen significant interest from companies in construction and warehousing to corporate offices that are “keen to use this kind of system to help get working again.”

It is the company behind Ocado’s
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warehouse robots, which are programmed not to bump into each other.

Other solutions are enabling offices and shopping malls to measure the crowdedness of rooms and ensure social distancing with depth sensors and thermal cameras.

San Francisco-based Density offers a more hands-off tool offering a safe return to work by tracking the capacity of rooms and letting people know if they are safe to enter. It will also chart the usage of rooms like offices and bathrooms to ensure regular cleaning when needed.

From March to April it had seen twice as much businesses as it did in the whole of 2019, and its chief marketing officer, Aleks Strub, told MarketWatch it was growing quarterly by 500%.

“You need to just give people the power to make choices,” she said. “We’re actually telling people what’s best for them and for global public health, and we have to trust that people will use that information that data to make great choices.”

In offices with Density installed people will be able to check how busy a room is before entering


Density

She thinks the approach is more empowering than social distancing tools: “Are you going to have a megaphone that goes off every time someone infringes on six feet or that zaps somebody? Yeah, no.”

Inurface Group tracks people coming in and out of buildings to stop overcrowding and its cameras also take temperatures, ensuring potential coronavirus cases are spotted.

Read:What is social distancing? This practice is key to slowing the coronavirus, public health experts say

Inurface founder and chief executive Josh Bunce told MarketWatch that tech-based solutions might not stop coronavirus spreading completely, but will have important psychological benefits and help control the virus nonetheless.

“It is about trying to make these environments as safe as possible, and whether it’s a workplace or whether it’s a public space, it’s just about doing everything you can,” he said. “You’re not going to cure it overnight until you’ve got a vaccine.”


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